4 min read

The problem of loneliness at work and what you can do about it

The risk of a lonely workforce
The problem of loneliness at work and what you can do about it
Photo by Noah Silliman / Unsplash

Last week, I was home sick the majority of the week.

I knew my team at work and the culture supported my need to unplug, rest up, and return to full strength. I knew this deep in my mind. But still, I was having trouble shaking the feeling several times that I was slacking. That I was making a poor first impression several weeks into a new job. That I was missing valuable time to develop relationships with my new colleagues.

But, my manager made it very clear I was right where I needed to be. Super awesome and reassuring!

The problem of loneliness at work

Unfortunately, many people at work struggle with these kinds of feelings daily. And that includes the workplace.

A 2019 Cigna study of more than 10,000 adults in the U.S. reveals that 61% of people are lonely at work – up from 54% in 2018.

Why?

We don’t get enough meaningful social interaction. People are sucked into their screens – even when we’re talking in meetings 🤮 – and communicate in short asynchronous messages. We’re not wired this way.

We have negative feelings about the strength of relationships with our co-workers. When they come up out of their screens for real human connection, it’s usually all work-related. Deflating.

We have a lack of balance. We’re so busy (or so we’re led to believe) so we’re always working. We’re burnt out.

Loneliness disproportionately impacts non-white employees

If we take a closer look at who loneliness in the workplace is disproportionately impacting, it’s younger workers, non-white workers, and those that come from lower-income backgrounds. It’s unfortunately not surprising.

Loneliness leads to more missed days, lower productivity, decreased work quality, and higher turnover.

This is a big deal. It’s a big deal to happiness. It’s a big deal to mental well-being. It’s a big deal to retaining top performers. And for businesses, it’s a big deal to their success and revenue targets.

How to find more connection at work

Here are a few ways to kick the feeling of loneliness at work to find more connection and meaning:

  1. Find community at work. Employees that have a friend at work reduce loneliness by six points. See if there are affinity or interest-based groups at your work – if not see if you can start something. Even look for local or online industry-specific community groups. In a previous job, I started a community for people interested in some of the same topics we discuss in this newsletter. It gave me a community outside of my core team and made me feel like I was contributing to the well-being of people.
  2. Share what you’re working on. Share with your immediate team through email, Slack, or a weekly meeting. You’ll open up the doors to connection when people know what you’re working on and will likely offer an idea or ways to connect efforts. I typically shoot my team a super quick Slack numbered list with my main items for the week. It always starts a discussion and weaves work together.
  3. Be inclusive. As the survey results unsurprisingly revealed, those most underrepresented in society also feel most lonely and neglected in the workplace. Include people in goal-setting discussions, brainstorms, casual lunch gatherings, and Slack channels.
  4. Connect with co-workers human to human. Task or project-specific meetings are crucial to keep work moving forward. However, regular small team syncs and 1:1 casual coffee chats (or 1:1 video conversations) might be the most important of them all. This allows people to dive deeper with one another and naturally develop a more human relationship. It powers individual happiness and propels better work. But make sure the connection is something that’s wanted on both sides!
  5. Turn outward for help. Our culture and technology are training us to turn inward – just Google it – or send one-off texts or messages. We have more trouble turning to those around us on our team for help. A sense of vulnerability endears you to them, they feel valued, and you’ve created the early bud of a trusting relationship.
  6. Power down. This one might be the most important. Yes, do spend energy to formulate relationships with others and work as a team. But also have and properly set boundaries with your team for disconnecting. This time to restore is necessary for your soul and will allow you to do better work to make your team and business shine.

Finally, if you’re a people manager, it’s on you to set the expectation that disconnecting is required and that spending work hours to deepen relationships with co-workers is important – not something that cuts into their work output.

Write somebody you work with this week to thank them for contributing to your experience.

Be open to new connections in your work.


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.

Get my top tools and courage to quit burnout weekly without leaving your corporate job 😌

✉️  Sustain is my signature weekly email that readers describe as an 'epic message'.  Get the next one delivered straight to your inbox >

✉️ How I Quit Burnout is my premium newsletter containing all my tested and data-backed strategies.  Get the next one delivered straight to your inbox >

🗄️ See the past issues of Sustain and How I Quit Burnout

📣 Have ideas, want to contribute, or book me? Let's chat