The BIG and Viral ‘Loneliness at Work’ Issue

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SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Watch for the premiere of the Lead In With Lorne Podcast: A Leadership Story to Start Your Week, releasing Monday morning, Dec. 3. 

Story: What the heck can we do about the rapidly emerging loneliness issue, as it relates to the workplace? “‘Despite sitting on a floor with hundreds of other people, work can feel really lonely,’ says 31-year-old Sarah, who works for a prestigious advertising agency in central London. ‘The company is huge but my team is small and we don’t really work together. I’m naturally quite shy too, so it can be hard to speak to start a conversation with someone in another department. I often feel left out and excluded…’ ‘When I’m at work now I’m just ‘head down.’ I never have time to go for lunch with people or pop out for an impromptu drink. People have stopped asking me now and I do feel like I’m missing out. Work used to be much more sociable.’” These quotes are from this article in The Telegraph, a well respected UK newspaper in a country that actually has a Minister of Loneliness. England has the research to understand that loneliness, including its residency in the workplace, is a major health and happiness matter for the entire British community. This insight applies to North America.

Most experts on the subject note that loneliness is not simply a disposition or personality trait. Rather, it consists of a person’s feeling about the adequacy and quality of his or her relationships in particular situations. It is also challenging to identify loneliness at work, in part because we assume being around lots of people is an antidote by itself. This is NOT a valid assumption. Loneliness likes to disguise itself too. Research into companies reporting high levels of exhaustion found that while employees were in fact exhausted, it wasn’t just because of the pace of work. They were actually exhausted because people were lonely, and that was manifesting itself in a feeling of exhaustion. As Peter Senge notes, “cause and effect are not closely related in space and time.”

So what can we do about this? Obviously the matter of workplace loneliness cannot adequately be addressed in a short blog. I hope these words increase awareness worthy of more discussion. At the same time, there are some things we can do in the spirit of thinking big, starting small and acting now. People that study loneliness recommend CLOSENESS as a meaningful antidote to loneliness. This is a feeling of being both understood AND valued; what we’re all really craving when we are lonely.

Lead Yourself Moves:

  1. We can each do something about our personal loneliness. Kira Asatryan, author of Stop Being Lonely, emphasizes: “You can create this feeling of closeness with anyone else who also wants to feel it. Closeness doesn’t have to be something that happens randomly or by accident—it is within your control to do something about it.” See that person, tell them you care about their happiness and well-being. Knowing and caring is a powerful combination.

Lead Others Moves:

  1. If you accept the obligation to lead others, I strongly believe you have a responsibility to get CLOSE to the people who work for and around you. This means to really know them (personally connect) AND provide an opportunity for each to fully contribute so they feel a sense of meaningful belonging. Create closeness! That’s part of your job as a leader.

Closeness in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: Yeah, this is certainly a complicated issue that doesn’t have an easy or short answer. You can’t really force team lunches or happy hours with any guaranteed positive results, and in my opinion, there is nothing more unstimulating than an office “icebreaker” session where we waste an hour learning that Brad has three cats, and Kim likes to scrapbook. It’s such a lazy effort at this point. But we can take our own steps to develop natural progression to desired closeness, and even a small start is a step further from the loneliness of doing nothing.

– Garrett

Blog 951 edited and published by Garrett Rubis