Employee Loneliness and its Impact on Organisations

Loneliness is a painful and complex emotion. Loneliness has more to do with a person’s quality of social relationships rather than their quantity.

Loneliness has been studied for decades in psychological literature when it comes to social or personal lives. But how much research is there on being lonely in the workplace? Not a lot, which comes as no surprise.  As awareness about loneliness increases — British Prime Minister Teresa May appointed a minister for loneliness earlier this year, it’s important to understand exactly how people experience loneliness in their jobs. How does it affect their work? How does it shape their relationships with their colleagues? And what can employers or HR departments do to help a lonely employee?

In general, it was discovered that lonely employees tend to isolate themselves, they begin to feel less connected to their organisation’s values, and can be seen by colleagues as more distant and less inclined in discussing both work-related and personal matters.  These findings add to the voluminous research literature showing that the behaviour of lonely people has the effect of increasing their own loneliness. Even though the person may desperately wish to connect or re-connect with others, they see their environment has become threatening. Thus perpetuating a vicious cycle where loneliness leads to greater social vigilance. As a result, lonelier people are more likely to pull away.

In a research study conducted by California State University and the Wharton School of Business which has surveyed 672 employees and their 114 supervisors from 143 work team units have found that “an employee’s work loneliness triggers emotional withdrawal from their organization, as reflected their increased surface acting and reduced affective commitment.” and “The results also show that co-workers can recognize this loneliness and see it hindering team member effectiveness.”  Researchers have concluded that”…management should not treat work loneliness as a private problem that needs to be individually resolved by employees who experience this emotion; but rather should consider it as an organizational problem that needs to be addressed both for the employees’ sake and that of the organization.”

The company’s culture plays a crucial role in expressing the values and norms about the emotions that are allowed to be expressed at work. In our study, we found that a stronger versus a weaker emotional culture of sharing love (e.g. expressions of affection and compassion among employees) diminishes the negative relationship between workplace loneliness and affective commitment to the organisation.

Look for reasons to show your appreciation

Global research shows that people who feel appreciated are most likely to produce the best work. Let people know their value to the organisation, the culture, the team, and to you, as a manager or employer.

If you think workplace loneliness isn’t an issue you need to be concerned about then think again. Healthy workplace relationships are beneficial for employees in many ways. They help people to deal with work-related frustrations and stress, whilst simultaneously encouraging bonding through sharing successes and positive experiences.

However, it seems that employees are getting lonelier and lonelier. Despite the rise in popularity of open-plan offices specially designed to foster interaction and good communication, a recent UK-based study done by Totaljobs found that more than one-third of employees report having no strong relationships at work. As people spend close to a quarter of their lives at work, job isolation can have serious and very complex implications.

The case of cultural fit

If most people in an organisation or team share similar attitudes and personality traits, a person who differs in these respects may start to feel isolated and will struggle to bond with colleagues or even have a sense of belonging.

Another aspect of organisational culture that can prevent employees from forming relationships is represented by the lack of ‘psychological safety’; a quintessential element for effective teamwork. In companies or teams that do not meet the necessary psychological safe requirements, team members do not feel swayed to take social risks, such as revealing emotions, for fear of disapproval by colleagues.

In teams or organisations where a ‘openness’  isn’t promoted or associated with psychological safety, the potential for building relationships tends to be limited; employees are likely to keep to themselves, restricting how much they reveal about themselves to their colleagues.

What can be done to prevent workplace loneliness?

So, knowing what we do about workplace loneliness, what can be done to prevent and reduce it? There are numerous steps that can be taken by employers and employees.

A key approach is for employers to focus on hiring for culture fit. By assessing the fit between candidates’ personality characteristics and the organisational culture, employers can minimise the risk of hiring those who are going to struggle to fit within the company.

Finally, employers can also help to promote workplace relationships through various teambuilding exercises or adopting a transformational leadership style that is based on interpersonal trust. Of course, employees themselves can have a huge impact on loneliness through day-to-day interactions with one another. Unfortunately, is often difficult for employees to open up to colleagues about loneliness, for fear of the admission being met with ridicule and isolation. It is therefore important for employees to help identify any colleagues that may be struggling at building lasting relationships with other members of the team.

Finally, employees should contact their employers or managers if they have any suggestions for improving relationship-building, which in turn will lead to a tremendous increase in employee well-being and productivity.

There is a real value in providing companies with the tools to carry out regular organisational assessments and this is where Great People Inside comes to your aid. Our online platform offers the best solutions and tools for your company to thrive in every type of industry and any possible situation your organisation may find itself. In terms of lowering your employee turnover rates, we recommend our GR8 Full Spectrum assessment for hiring and 360° Survey for retention. Finding the right talent, the best fit for the job and your organisation can be a very challenging task. It requires deep knowledge of your own organisation’s culture and a keen understanding of the candidate’s personality, strengths, interests, work style and other characteristics. Our technology and solutions will do the work for you, helping you find employees who can flourish and reach the highest performance required to constantly bring your company forward.

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Sleep Deprivation and How it Affects Performance

Right after managers and employees have their first interaction, the process of forging their working relationship begins, which is a crucial factor in how they both are going to experience work, how much trust there will be between one another, and how effectively they can carry out assignments.  A new and possibly forgotten predictor in the quality of these work relations is sleep. Sleep deprivation for either the manager or employee or both could make them experience an increase in negative emotions at the workplace. Usually, these emotions are represented by hostility. Everyone reading this can remember at least one time when fewer hours of sleep translated into a short temper at the office. This is a common experience for almost everyone in the workforce and, most of the times, it is directly linked to sleep deprivation due to the fact that fewer hours of sleep impairs the part of the brain that regulates emotions.

Hostility can be dangerous for a new professional relationship. Hostility leads to the feeling of threat and can easily deteriorate the psychological safety of people in every possible context. If managers happen to yell at an employee once, it may not be an issue, nevertheless, if this a common practice in the office, employees may feel that their manager is lacking respect and empathy, hence leading to a weak work relationship.

Unfortunately, today’s business world promotes sleep deprivation as the highest ranking achievement possible. If you’re always busy and cannot be bothered to sleep then you’re definitely on the way to the top. The problem here is that science says the exact opposite, so who do we believe? It may sound tempting to trade away some hours of sleep in order to finish a few tasks, but by doing you may sabotage your own success and health. Perhaps it is time to get some sleep, or else you may face numerous risks.

At Harvard Medical School the Division of Sleep Medicine revealed the fact that short-term productivity gains from skipping sleep are quickly downplayed by the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on a person’s mood, his or her ability to focus and access to higher-level brain functions. Interestingly enough, the negative effects of sleep deprivation are so considerable that even people who drink manage to outperform those without sleep.

Why We Need Acceptable Hours of Sleep

We all know that sleep is good for our brain and new found evidence from the research done by the University of Rochester has provided us with clear evidence on why your brain cells need you to rest. The study states that when people sleep the brain removes the toxic proteins from its neurons (by-products of neural activity while we’re awake). Unfortunately for us, the brain can only do while we’re asleep. Consequently, the toxic proteins remain in the brain cells, impairing our ability to think and no amount of coffee can solve that. These toxins slow our ability to process information and problem solving; it can also kill our creativity whilst catapulting our stress levels and emotional reactivity through the roof.

What Sleep Deprivation Does to Our Health

Sleep deprivation has been heavily linked to numerous serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and even obesity. The lack of sleep stresses us out because our body overproduces the stress hormone when its sleep deprived, also known as cortisol. Excess in cortisol levels has a host of negative effects that come from the damage it inflicts on our immune system. High cortisol in our body results in looking older, due to the fact that cortisol destroys skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.

Sleep deprivation also compromises our body’s ability to metabolise carbohydrates and control our food intake. Sleeping less and less results into eating more and more and also increasing the difficulty in burning the calories we consume. Due to the lack of sleep, our bodies get hungrier much faster and that is done through the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and it also makes it harder for us to get full because it reduces levels of the satiety-inducing hormone leptin. There is a 30% increase in the likelihood of becoming obese for people who sleep less than 6 hours a night rather than those who sleep between 7 to 9 hours a night.

Besides the fact that it may harm professional relationships, sleep deprivation can also deplete us of the very traits that make us good at our jobs. For example, workplace leaders are known for their charisma and which translates into making employees want to work for and with them. Sleep deprivation saps all of the outstanding personality traits and all we are left with is a robotic, difficult person in its place.

Sleep is a critical part of our wellbeing and without it, we get emotional, stressed-out, forgetful, disorganised people at work. We are more likely to feel helpless and be unable to perform even the most menial of tasks or change perspective when our plans go awry. It’s time we stop encouraging sleep deprivation at the workplace. It’s not doing our career or our bodies any favours.

We have an impressive assessment library with hundreds of dimensions that can be leveraged in creating a custom skills-based assessment that supports your organisation’s specific competencies and unique vision. Please contact us if you need to measure the engagement level in your company.