Loneliness is a growing epidemic, and the workplace is no exception. Ironically, at a time of unprecedented connectedness and open-plan offices, people are reporting being lonelier than ever.
Generally we picture loneliness as a problem that happens away from the workplace but it’s at an office near you – and it’s bad for business. Studies affirm that at least a third of employees have no strong workplace relationships, while one study reports that half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their roles.
Reducing isolation and loneliness at work is good for business! Considering that we spend at least a quarter of our lives at work, it makes sense to invest in helping to create workplace relationships that connect, engage and motivate. Small actions are vital to improving workers’ health and the health of the company and economy.
Leaders are in the unique position to support their teams and identify strategies that can increase connection and sense of belonging, and ultimately maintain a healthy workplace. According to wellness expert Beverly Beuermann-King, even with 24-7 technology that allows us to connect to anyone and anywhere, many of us are feeling that our support circle has shrunk or is non-existent.
So encouraging bonding and communication through positive experiences and shared successes is a win-win situation. “Research is showing that building relationships that matter help to reduce absenteeism and high turnover, as well as reduce the negative impact of illnesses such as depression,” reports Beuermann-King, of worksmartlivesmart.com.
In her workplace wellness work, she has seen connectedness reduce fear and frustration, and increase resiliency, courage, hope and engagement. Without that sense of connection in the workplace, expect to see more gossiping, back stabbing, lack of cooperation, and poor customer care.
Leaders also need to model coping strategies to their team members. Ensuring that they are connected, involved in team activities and gatherings, being able to ask for support, as well as sharing recognition and support to others, is good for their own well-being and it speaks volumes to the team. When employees view their leader setting this example, it becomes the norm within the team, not the exception.
When things are frayed at the top and support is at a minimum, it trickles down. Sadly, the 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards and Global Workforce Studies, found that 54% of employees thought that their manager did not have enough time to handle the people aspect of the job. That’s damaging – “people skills and ensuring that team members feel supported and connected is the basis for building confidence, and the competence needed to stay motivated, engaged and committed to their organization,” she says.
Here’s how to encourage healthy and productive work relationships with vital tips from Beuermann-King:
- Show appreciation for a job well done: ensure that you are not only giving negative feedback. Whether you are a colleague or a leader it is important to let others know that their efforts are noticed.
- Employees want to feel heard and they want the freedom to speak up. As a leader, provide opportunities for your team to give their feedback and suggestions in a safe and healthy environment.
- Encourage multiple relationships within teams by getting “work spouses” to part ways occasionally and work with other team members on different projects and short assignments. Cliques only serve to exclude.
- Provide opportunities for employees to connect and engage with each other. Think outside of social events. Celebrate individual successes and team challenges that have been overcome together. As an employee, get involved and take advantage of opportunities to connect with those around you.
- Touch base and understand the outside challenges that may be impacting your team members. Caregiving, health issues, and struggles balancing life in general are important to your team members and so you should know how they are coping or if they are struggling. If you see signs of frustration, fear or burnout, step in, let them know that you have noticed a change and offer to support them as best as you can.
- Encourage employees to build in time outside of work to connect with friends and family. Make that connection time enough of a priority that it doesn’t get constantly pushed to the back burner and risk becoming non-existent.
“Employees who remain actively engaged in life and connected to those around them are generally happier, in better physical and mental health, and more empowered to cope effectively with life transitions,” adds Beuermann-King.