Loneliness at work is a modern pandemic, taking a toll on lives and businesses

Loneliness is often discussed as a social problem, but it is rarely considered a workplace issue that needs to be managed like other workplace health issues.

The Social Connection in Australia 2023 report acknowledges that loneliness has a negative impact on businesses as it causes employee absenteeism and reduced productivity.

However, people are often unaware of specific job roles, environments, and responsibilities, and work-related relocation is often a source of loneliness.

These working conditions can cause social isolation, strain interpersonal relationships, and prevent employees from forming and maintaining social connections, all of which contribute to loneliness.

The phrase “it’s lonely at the top” suggests that senior executives and chief executives are particularly likely to suffer from loneliness.

Because they are socially and psychologically distanced from most people in the organization, their position and the power that comes with it makes genuine relationships in the workplace rare.

As leaders, they are responsible for making important decisions. Not having someone to share risks and responsibilities with is an implicit social flaw that increases feelings of loneliness in the workplace.

Silhouette of a businessman standing alone in the office
CEOs often find themselves distanced from their employees.
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Similarly, loneliness is also a typical occupational hazard for entrepreneurs who are ready to take risks in pursuit of the goal of developing their own business. A survey of 363 entrepreneurs in Indonesia and the UK between 2019 and 2022 found that 50% said they sometimes or always experience loneliness.

This percentage was consistent with a 1984 Harvard Business Review article by DE Gumpert and DP Boyd entitled “The Loneliness of the Small Business Owner.” Their research found that 52% of business owners surveyed frequently experience loneliness.

The feeling of loneliness experienced by entrepreneurs seems to have remained the same 40 years later. Entrepreneurs’ responsibilities for running and developing their businesses significantly reduce the amount of time they have to share with family and friends.

Read more: Can Australian employers stop working from home? The law says this:

Entrepreneurs may also have to withhold negative information about their business and present a strong, positive image to others in order to maintain resources and support for their company. The nature of the job makes them “lone wolves.”

Loneliness is also observed among employees transferred overseas by multinational companies. Expats who are cut off from their social networks commonly find it difficult to form new connections due to cultural differences, language barriers, and lack of social resources.

Remote work, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, has given people the flexibility to work from home, but it has also reduced opportunities for informal chats and face-to-face bonding with co-workers and managers, resulting in social disruption. Social isolation also worsened.

Two women chatting at work
Due to remote work, there are fewer opportunities to casually report on the status at the office.
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While most companies would like employees to return to the office, the continuation of hybrid working will help address work-related loneliness as many people continue to work partially from home. is creating challenges.

Similarly, digital technology has created another modern labor phenomenon: gig work. Gig workers enjoy flexible schedules, but the nature of their work means there are few opportunities to develop deep relationships with co-workers.

Given the prevalence of workplace loneliness and the challenges it poses, it is surprising that there is so little public awareness about how to deal with it.

To further raise interest in this topic and alleviate this modern pandemic, our soon-to-be-published research proposes resource-based solutions to combat loneliness. We also identify strategies for both individuals and organizations to address loneliness.

personalized strategy

Understand the desired level of social goals.

Loneliness occurs when desired social relationships are not satisfied by actual relationships. People need to clarify their social needs at work. Some people may be satisfied with a few strong relationships, while others may prefer a wide but weak social network. Understanding an individual’s social goals can help employees realize when they need to develop appropriate strategies to combat loneliness.

Assess personal resources that make it difficult to build social connections.
Employees need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of personal factors and change them if they are hindering social connections. For example, is the lack of contact caused by our personality, lack of social skills, or low social motivation? We as individuals foster social connections, so the key to forming them is is us.

Don’t waste your daily resources. Time, energy, and mood are also resources, but they fluctuate from day to day. It can also be used to achieve social goals. We all regularly have feelings like we don’t have enough time, we’re tired, we don’t want to talk to people, we don’t want to be social, etc. This wastes everyday opportunities to build connections. Desired social relationships are built gradually and must be addressed regularly to achieve the desired level of connection.

corporate strategy

Audit labor practices and identify causes of social isolation. Organizations need to recognize that their work practices can cause loneliness in their employees and find creative solutions. For example, you can reduce work intensity and give employees time to socialize. These can help expatriates maintain old social ties and build new connections at their new work location.

Remove social barriers for employees by fostering an inclusive work environment. An inclusive environment is especially beneficial for a demographically diverse workforce. Organizations have the power to promote and normalize inclusion, shape employee social behavior, and help underrepresented groups develop desirable social connections in the workplace.

Provide employees with regular and repeated opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Organizations can provide a variety of social opportunities. These may include mentoring and support programs, social events, holiday celebrations, coffee breaks, team-building activities, and more.

Of course, employees must actively take responsibility for overcoming loneliness. You can start doing this by developing or expanding your repertoire of personal resources and taking advantage of opportunities provided by your employer.

These investments in reducing workplace loneliness will help employees feel more connected to their organizations and be more productive.

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