Why workplace loneliness is bad for business

You don't have to be alone to feel lonely. Workplaces are more connected and open than in the past. But work...

Posted: Dec 5, 2018 3:03 PM
Updated: Dec 5, 2018 3:03 PM

You don't have to be alone to feel lonely. Workplaces are more connected and open than in the past. But workers are still feeling lonely and isolated on the job because of technology, remote work, and fewer human interactions.

Even in open-plan office spaces with little separation, workers can feel disconnected from their colleagues. Coworkers sitting around the same conference table or in daily meetings together can have no real relationship.

Business, economy and trade

Company activities and management

"You could be working in the middle of a crowded work area, but if you aren't close with anyone, you feel lonely," said Hakan Ozcelik, a professor of management in the College of Business Administration at Sacramento State.

Technologies like email, texts, and messaging have added convenience and efficiency to workplace communications, but they've also limited personal connections. It's easier to Slack a coworker or fire off an email rather than walk across the office to talk to a colleague who could be in the middle of another task. But emails and messages are stale and strip out important human interactions.

"The exchange of emotion is a critical building block to friendship," noted Sigal Barsade, professor of management at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

While freelance work and flexible schedules that allow employees to work from home have become more common, they also limit co-worker interactions and engagement.

Remote workers are more likely to quit because of loneliness, according to Dan Schawbel, author of "Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation."

A drain on productivity

For companies, worker engagement is essential to productivity.

"Relationships and friendships at work are absolutely critical to happiness, engagement and productivity in the workplace," said Annie McKee, author of "How to Be Happy at Work."

Not feeling recognized and part of the team can also be isolating.

"When workers' talents and efforts go unnoticed, you can start feeling invisible, and that feels horrible," McKee added.

Employees who feel lonely are tied to lower job performance, according to a recent study by Ozcelik and Barsade.

The study also found that lonely employees were less committed to the company and seemed less approachable to their colleagues.

While it can be hard to identify, loneliness can spread easily. "We catch emotions from each other like viruses," said Barsade. "We don't realize it's happening; it becomes behavioral mimicry."

Lonely workers can get stuck in a negative cycle that's hard to climb out of. They tend to push away those trying to help, which can ultimately lead to a talent drain.

"They start performing less, and companies might be losing their best employees because they are lonely," said Ozcelik.

What managers can do

Pay attention to onboarding. Loneliness can be a common problem for new employees. They are faced with the tasks of navigating a new workflow and culture and also establishing new relationships.

"It is very natural to be initially lonely in a new situation," said Barsade.

Companies should strive to make onboarding more personal, with new hires getting proper introductions and support.

Show appreciation. Recognizing a person or team's hard work can help foster a sense of belonging.

And it doesn't have to be a grand gesture.

"We often don't take the time to do simple human things. A thank you, a quick note, email, smile and recognition of a job well done, if we don't get those pretty regularly, most people start feeling alone," said McKee.

Put remote workers front and center. Don't just have a remote worker video conference into an office meeting.

"Let them lead the meeting, that empowers them," said Schawbel. He added that managers should take the time to visit employees in other offices. "It's about making the time and investing in your workers."

Get outside. The office can be stifling to building bonds. Planning employee lunches or meetups, or hosting social events that are non-work-related can encourage more meaningful interactions.

"People build real friendships by not always talking about work. When you get outside the office you are more likely to open up," Schawable said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 85813

Reported Deaths: 1985
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin25093909
Ramsey10166314
Dakota6895123
Anoka5466130
Stearns359023
Washington343155
Scott230532
Olmsted221726
Nobles191216
Blue Earth15266
Wright14637
Carver12847
Rice12748
Mower12494
St. Louis120228
Clay117940
Sherburne103813
Kandiyohi8982
Winona71418
Lyon6124
Steele4982
Nicollet48416
Watonwan4824
Todd4712
Benton4693
Freeborn4653
Le Sueur4363
McLeod4282
Chisago4131
Waseca4008
Crow Wing38818
Beltrami3554
Otter Tail3544
Goodhue3099
Martin2739
Itasca25413
Polk2534
Becker2332
Carlton2191
Isanti2190
Douglas2121
Cottonwood2110
Pipestone2049
Pine1950
Dodge1810
Morrison1811
Chippewa1801
Sibley1643
Wabasha1570
Brown1522
Meeker1522
Unassigned15052
Murray1482
Yellow Medicine1351
Rock1330
Mille Lacs1323
Faribault1280
Cass1173
Jackson1121
Renville1096
Pennington1051
Houston1040
Roseau1040
Fillmore960
Koochiching963
Swift961
Kanabec928
Redwood880
Lincoln870
Stevens871
Pope780
Aitkin681
Big Stone590
Hubbard590
Wadena590
Grant574
Wilkin553
Norman510
Lake490
Marshall481
Mahnomen421
Red Lake370
Lac qui Parle330
Traverse290
Clearwater240
Lake of the Woods201
Kittson140
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 76376

Reported Deaths: 1239
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk14932255
Johnson488827
Woodbury467459
Black Hawk424384
Linn3615101
Story319917
Dallas262838
Scott260026
Dubuque250140
Buena Vista191312
Pottawattamie188137
Marshall174934
Wapello121657
Sioux11803
Webster117414
Muscatine105052
Clinton101818
Cerro Gordo96621
Plymouth95920
Crawford9354
Warren9146
Des Moines7117
Jasper70732
Marion6834
Tama67630
Carroll5955
Lee5697
Wright5471
Henry4744
Dickinson4596
Bremer4477
Boone4316
Washington41411
Louisa41214
Franklin32917
Hamilton3113
Mahaska30819
Delaware3053
Floyd2773
Jackson2763
Winneshiek2715
Clay2653
Hardin2651
Benton2571
Clarke2513
Butler2502
Emmet24110
Winnebago23911
Shelby2381
Jones2313
Allamakee2275
Poweshiek2278
Clayton2233
Buchanan2171
Lyon2143
Cedar2081
Guthrie2075
Chickasaw1960
Grundy1932
Madison1912
Kossuth1900
Howard1764
Fayette1741
Mitchell1710
Hancock1702
Iowa1701
Sac1690
Cherokee1682
Humboldt1682
Harrison1642
Calhoun1612
Mills1531
Pocahontas1462
Palo Alto1450
Monroe1409
Page1400
Jefferson1291
Lucas1276
Monona1251
Cass1242
Appanoose1163
Taylor1161
Osceola1120
Davis1104
Union1093
Van Buren1081
Worth990
Montgomery845
Keokuk831
Greene770
Ida760
Wayne762
Fremont690
Adair591
Decatur580
Audubon481
Ringgold402
Adams270
Unassigned220
Rochester
Clear
42° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 38°
Mason City
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 39°
Albert Lea
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 43°
Austin
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 43°
Charles City
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 39°
Cooler to wrap up the work week
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events