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Loneliness at work

The best moments in my career have been those shared with other people. The project that we got off the ground when it seemed impossible. The new and exciting initiatives that really made a difference. The sound advice from peers and the deep and meaningful discussions over a cup of coffee all took place face to face..

It’s a different world now and one in which a five day often dreadful commute has been swopped for much needed flexibility and technical solutions. But at what cost? 

Loneliness is a real issue for many workers. Detachment has an impact not only on performance but also on confidence leading to reductions in engagement and performance. It can also lead to increases in turnover where staff seek more meaningful work.

On my days working at home, I have to get out at some point with my dog and have some chatty interaction with other dog walkers, or people in shops and the local coffee shop. If I don’t, I feel sluggish and tired, lacking motivation.

If you don’t have a dog borrow one! It’s a great way of talking to people when otherwise you could be facing long hours of screen time.

There is a job for managers of those whose roles allow for limited human interaction. That means understanding that managing remote workers takes skill and effort beyond a reliance on email or other technical solutions for collaboration.

Managers need to find ways to connect with staff through the phone, in person and through teleconferencing. They can also use feedback to find out what people feel about their levels of connection and how that impacts on their engagement and productivity. Talking to staff about their experiences is also a useful reason to bring people together to talk about how their experience can be enhanced.

If you are seeing higher turnover, less engagement, less innovation and productivity you may have a detachment problem.

Recruitment and retraining is expensive and time consuming, we can all think of times when having a few friends at work was the factor that made us enjoy work, share problems and find common ground. Discussing the reality of roles with staff and sharing stories of how other staff find ways to connect can be really helpful.

It is important for organisations to be clear with their staff that working at home does not come with an instruction to stay glued to a screen all day. I was recently coaching managers who had moved to a much more regular pattern of working at home and it was surprising how many of them thought that they should not leave their screen or home at all on these days. That was a disaster, staff were soon exhausted, isolated and unable to enjoy their work.

Working at home without the distractions of the chat and breaks is much more intense than being in an office and breaks are needed on a regular basis with hopefully some fresh air as well.

Detachment does not only occur with those who are home based. It can happen in organisations where staff have high levels of screen time and limited opportunities for interaction and connection.

One great organisation that I know encourages staff to set up events covering a wide spectrum of interests, some connected to work others with no obvious link other than bringing people together.

Recent events included a picnic in the park with staff bringing their kids, dogs and friends along, pumpkin carving, charity cycle rides, a network for people to discuss their experiences of identity and the most recent a Lego building competition for children from disadvantaged backgrounds designing their dream house. They are a large award-winning firm of architects and they take every opportunity to allow their staff to have new opportunities for connection and creative outlets. They have noticed a drop-in turnover and increases in productivity and design quality.

Digital disconnects can be useful but are a complete waste of time if not modelled by the top team and senior managers.

Some individuals love having the opportunity to connect digitally as and when they want to and can manage and regulate their time in a healthy way. For others a digital detox would be a joy. People are different, talk to them find out what would work for them. Many are now working all day getting home stopping to eat and put kids to bed and then logging on again. Occasionally this might be ok but as a regular way of working it can’t be healthy.

 The flexibility granted by a digital world is a huge bonus but there are also challenges to be overcome in making human connections.Creating a welcoming experience for employees can help them develop relationships. That can range from understanding what motivates your employees as well as taking action to ensure that loneliness and isolation is recognised as a risk for organisations, talked about and acted on.

 


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