Impacting the Workplace Loneliness Epidemic
As a student of psychology, I’m an avid people watcher. At work, most of us are tethered to our laptops, tablets or smartphones—sending emails, instant messages and texts by the truckloads.
I find it interesting how many of my coworkers will email or instant message me instead of walking a short distance to ask me their question or tell me about their concerns in person. I also notice that I receive fewer phone calls even from external sources intent on selling me something. Instead, I receive additional emails.
I recently read an intriguing blog post, “Fighting the ‘loneliness epidemic’ at work: Dan Schawbel on creating real connection in the Age of Isolation” by Jory MacKay.
MacKay interviewed Schawbel, who said, “Despite the illusion of 24/7 connection, in reality, most workers feel isolated from their colleagues, their organization and its leaders. What they crave most—and what research increasingly shows to be the hallmark of the highest-performing workplace cultures—is a sense of authentic connection with others.”
Reliance on Technology versus Creating Connections
While we believe that technology has enabled us to communicate with each other 24/7, it’s actually caused most workers to feel increasingly isolated. Personally, I prefer to get up from my desk and visit with my coworkers when I have something to discuss with them. I obtain so much more from an in-person exchange than I ever would from an email, instant message or text. I can see the other person’s body language, and I can easily ask follow-up questions to confirm understanding. It also helps to get to know your coworkers better and builds relationships. You can’t do that via email. But instead of creating real connections that promote meaning and purpose, we rely on technology to foster relationships.
A Healthy and Productive Culture
We spend so much of our time working that it’s critically important that we improve our relationships with our teams and create a culture of trust. At my organization we focus our energies on ensuring we have a healthy and productive culture. One way we do this is by surveying our employees. We ask these questions:
“Is there a positive workplace culture here?”
“Do we exhibit the qualities it takes to be an employer of choice?”
“Do we treat you with dignity and respect?”
We facilitate focus groups to better understand the survey results, and then the leadership team develops action plans to help remedy any areas that need improvement.
Connection in the Workplace is a Two-Way Street
There are plenty of things we can do to increase “in person” connections in the workplace, such as proposing shorter meetings to promote more human contact, and teams spending more time sharing their skills and resources so everyone benefits.
We should all look for opportunities to reach out and initiate in-person interactions. If the approach is positive, the other person will likely be receptive to connecting with you. Stop, think and ask yourself, “Will the interaction I’d like to have with this person be better served by a phone call or an in-person meeting?” If so, forget about sending an email, instant message or text.
Use technology as a tool—a means and not an end. It’s not a substitute for connecting with others and building genuine, authentic workplace relationships. To the extent that we do this, we will minimize workplace loneliness and isolation and increase trust, engagement, productivity, organizational health and employee retention.
Paul Kopack is a career Human Resources professional with his own consulting business, PrincipledHR.com.