Combatting loneliness is something that is important to me.
But the emphasis is predominantly all about loneliness at home and I think we're missing something huge.
Over half of our waking hours are spent at work & more time is with our work colleagues than our family and friends. And yet, there is very little being talked about the value of the social connection at work. One of the pieces of research that was commissioned by The Co-Op earlier this year, identifies that the total cost to UK employers is in the region of £2.5bn a year, of which a large proportion is due to lower productivity and increased staff turnover. But whilst it is often the cost that grabs attention, it is the impact on our well-being and the long term risks to our societal connection that is of more interest to me. Full details of the report here.
Many people experience loneliness from time to time; however, when individuals experience chronic loneliness, or feel lonely most, or all of the time, the implications in terms of health and wellbeing can be serious.
Numerous studies have made the connection between strong social connections and our mental well-being and happiness. What if we more consciously tapped into the value of 'togetherness' at work... could this help combat loneliness in society?
Loneliness not only impacts our mental well-being it also has a detrimental effect on our capacity to perform, particularly reducing our resilience and ability to bounce back. We therefore become more adverse to risk and less likely to innovate.
The Co-Op Report shares evidence that suggests that loneliness is associated with lower productivity at work. In an omnibus survey conducted by market research rm, ICM, in July 2016, a representative sample of 930 adults working in the UK were asked: ‘Do you ever feel lonely when at work?’Of the 45% who responded that they ‘always’, ‘often’, or ‘sometimes’ feel lonely at work, more than half (59%) said that feeling lonely at work ‘somewhat’ lowers their productivity, and 10% said that it lowers their productivity ‘a great deal’.
I know I feel far less adventurous, motivated and energised to do more difficult work when I'm lonely and feeling alone. I can find it a struggle to continually create the energy within myself to persevere... it's so much easier to slip into the mundane day to day jobs that make me feel busy. It's what happened to me last week and I'm sure it will reappear again in the not too distant future.
It is my opinion that loneliness at work is crucifying to one's soul. It is one thing to be on your own, but to be surrounded by people and feel that you are not truly seen or heard can be heart breaking. Has our pursuit of achievement and meaningful work shifted our attention at work too heavily towards making a difference through our work, that we've forgotten that our businesses are communities and places of connection? Workplaces are the heartbeats of our society, but like our tech world are they becoming too robotic?
What has happened to our time to 'banter'?
I took time this week to re-watch the most engaging and beautiful presentation I've ever seen. It was by Curtis James at the All About People Conference in 2016, in which he talks about his project Beyond Work. He has been asking the question "What conditions are needed to nurture and support people for a life at work and beyond work?" Over the last four years this has involved ethnographic studies of people at work, using stunning photography and voice recordings to create poignant stories. During the presentation he shares a couple of these. One of which is about Andrew, a post office worker nearing retirement. Work has been a means to an end for Andrew, he says "the banter is the only thing I'd miss about the job".
The whole presentation is available here, and to listen to Andrew's story skip to 17.37mins.
Is it a bizarre irony that as we've sought meaningful work and increased our drive to achieve and make a difference that the time available to 'banter' and socially connect at work is vanishing?
Always on but never together?
The other risk to our social connection, is technology. Whilst social media has brought us many many more contact points than ever before, the depth and quality of connection is diminishing. This is not a numbers game, it is a depth game. Sherry Turkle coined the expression "Alone Together". Texting, emailing and social messaging can be 'touched up' to present who we want to be. It lacks the messiness and learning that comes from real-time communication. The issue is, the more we have this shallow level of communication, the more we like it's ease and the control it gives us - when to respond and how to respond. Sometimes ideal at work, but terrible for nurturing a human community that has empathy, helps each other out and learns together.
Workplace relationships need 'togetherness'
'Togetherness' is one of four dimensions of workplace relationships which I currently see as crucial to support both performance and well-being. It is about nurturing the sense of belonging through conversation and valuing participation. It takes each of us to take an interest in each other, as humans, not just as someone who does that job. Look up today and notice who you are working with. Smile, say hello and start a conversation. Take the time to chat, don't let 'the pressure of time' take away your opportunity to connect with someone.
Important note - you can't 'do' together; for the connection to be genuine, it has to come from a place of being. Please don't make it into something to be ticked off the list of jobs.
Are you at risk of being lonely at work?
Are you lonely...? Using the three statements used by the Campaign to End Loneliness, to what extent do you agree when you think about you and your workplace?
1. I am content with my friendships and relationships.
2. I have enough people I feel comfortable asking for help at any me.
3. My relationships are as satisfying as I would want them to be.
If like me, it's a lonely week because you're working from home and it's not possible to pop by someone's desk to say hello, or join in some office chit chat, then it's time to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Technology can help us meet new people. I was delighted to meet someone new on LinkedIn last week over our common interest in the them of loneliness at work. Within 24 hours, we were in conversation over the phone and hopefully, was the first of many thought provoking chats.
If you're in an office with others, don't send that text, email or message if it's just to one person. Pick up the phone and have a conversation. Or even better walk over to their desk. Take the time and take the risk of interruption. Be human.
Don't let loneliness become a regular pattern in your life, for you or for others. Prevent it from becoming chronic.
We find ourselves through our connection and conversation with others.
If you have been experiencing loneliness at work for some time, or are concerned that loneliness & disconnection is creeping into your work culture and want to explore how you can change this, then get in touch.
An invitation....(actually 3 invitations!)
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Collaborate: I'm interested in collaborating with charities, researchers and other professionals to set up a ground breaking research project in 2018 that explores the connections between workplace relationships, well-being and performance. If you feel that you can contribute in some way and would like to be involved, please contact me directly.
A 12 wk series on workplace relationships
This is no.2 in a12 wk series which share my thoughts, insights, conversations and questions about workplace relationships. Why they matter; which ones may matter more; what's the difference between a relationship that languishes and one that flourishes; what questions I get asked about them and so on.