Feeling Lonely at Work

Accountability Organizational culture Well-being


Key Point: Too many darn people are just lonely at work. The most advanced cultures in organizations are making intentional strides in promoting, measuring, and achieving a much more inclusive environment. This strategy comes from the deep belief that everyone belongs and matters (unless they continuously clash with the organization’s values). When everyone matters and belongs, each person maximizes personal contribution. This workplace philosophy goes way beyond implementing diversity and identity representation. It also extends well beyond respectfully listening to all others. In my view, complete inclusion in our workplace is a leadership priority and involves the conscious commitment to also defeat workplace loneliness and isolation. I find it unacceptable and ironic that organizations now have all the tools of technology, social media and collaboration platforms yet we find too many people lonely at work. And this loneliness is having a material negative impact on employee’s physical/mental health resulting in increased workplace disability. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, studies have linked social isolation to health outcomes such as high blood pressure and obesity, and lonely individuals have also been found to be more prone to depression and suicide.

Social isolation involves a lack of social interaction, contact or meaningful communication with other people. Socially isolated people also tend to have a lack of significant social networks such as family and friends, and hence may not see or talk to other people very often. Social isolation is the first cousin of loneliness. However, lets not confuse loneliness with being alone. Many of us are perfectly content when alone, and solitude is not necessarily linked to loneliness. Loneliness is a feeling of not having one’s social needs met, feeling isolated or feeling alone in a negative way. It is possible to be surrounded by people and have a lot of social interaction and still feel lonely, perhaps because these interactions are low in quality and/or do not lead to feelings of being understood or cared for. 

We need to recognize the signs of workplace loneliness or social isolation. And although there is somewhat of a personal self-accountability for people to want to become engaged and connected, most people do not make the conscious choice to disconnect or become isolated. It often happens like the proverbial frog sitting in turned up heat. Bit by bit, increased lethargy in contributing proactively in work conversation, decreased motivation in seeking companionship, and eventually there is more and more withdrawal. Loneliness and social isolation increases at work and often extends into personal life as well; and vice versa.

Let’s look after and commit to loving each other at work! Yes… That “LOVE” word is about what’s important in life, and what’s important in life is a sense of belonging, being significant, valued and appreciated for our unique imperfect selves.

Character Moves:

  1. If you’re a leader it’s your job to include, nurture, grow and develop your team. If anyone becomes socially isolated, you have a part to play in that.
  2. If you’re a teammate, get to know and include your colleagues. Accept their unique, imperfect selves and connect at a personal level. 
  3. If you’re feeling lonely and socially isolated, regardless of how hard and counterintuitive, reach out and give to someone else. However small of a step, extend and become a contributor. And know it’s more than ok to talk to a professional. If your employer has an employee assistance program, use it. If not, join that church group or others. They have a place for you. 

Included in The Triangle,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: I work strange hours (5 a.m. to 1 p.m.), and let’s just say that doesn’t bode well to out-of-work socializing. 1 p.m. is not happy hour, and we all have other stuff to do for the rest of the day. A self-proclaimed introverted comic that makes me laugh recently had a bit on “happy hour” and his dislike of it, with the punch line: “We’re done here. Let’s go home!” But truthfully, being able to socialize and grab a drink with clients, customers, co-workers or anyone at work, is a privilege many of us don’t have. If that’s a work perk of yours, don’t take it for granted. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis