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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