Previously published on Forbes
Maybe you’ve heard it from your team members, or even felt it yourself. People are lonely in our WFH world. Working from home means sitting in front of a screen for hours a day, only interacting with people in the physical world in places like the grocery store or local coffee shop.
In their book Wellbeing at Work, Jim Clifton and Jim Harter highlight a study that shows 25% of Americans feel lonely working at home. Emerging research indicates that work loneliness is negatively impacting employee well-being and is associated with poorer performance and less helping others at work.
Loneliness is often hidden, especially because people don’t share unless they sense it will be safe to do so. But positive social interactions are most definitely a big part of our work lives. We need each other. We need to know we belong and that we matter.
3 Strategies to Combat Loneliness
If you’re a leader, this is part of your job, because your team members’ well-being is inextricably linked to their ability stay engaged, motivated and able to perform at their best. Here are some strategies you can start applying immediately to combat or prevent loneliness.
Encourage More Team Sharing
Loneliness can be eased by more team connection. Dr. Constance Noonan Hadley, an organizational psychologist and lecturer at the Boston University Questrom School of Business, explains:
Key aspects of teamwork to consider when designing for relationship-building are collaboration and social support. Working in parallel or merely passing the baton from one teammate to the next is unlikely to create as many opportunities for true connection as more integrated forms of collaboration. Instead, design the work for high levels of interactivity and the regular exchange of resources and thought partnership.
Think about how to structure work projects for more interaction and engagement. You may have to restructure the way you do things now to involve more people. This, in turn, may require some skill and training in the art of collaboration so that team members are able to work together effectively.
You might also consider using Slack or another team communication app and create a channel like #whatmadeyourweek for team members to share and connect. This is less personal, but it gets people sharing and connecting more.
Don’t assume you know how your team is really doing unless you invite them to share. A check-in is a process in which people share how they are doing and what’s on their mind and heart. In this way, you and your team focus on individual human concerns, not just organizational issues. This helps the team connect to each other.
Schedule a meeting — in person or virtual — that is only focused on checking in. Don’t attempt to also get “real work” done. The real work is forming social bonds and alleviating isolation.
Ultimately, we can all do a better job of being kinder to ourselves, and as researchers Stephanie Andel, Winny Shen and Maryana Arvan note in their recent study, that starts with self-compassion.
“When experiencing work loneliness,” they write, “workers high in self-compassion could be kinder to themselves, more likely to recognize that it is a widespread experience during the pandemic, and be aware of, but not consumed by, their feelings.”
What does that look like? Dr. Kristin Neff, who is recognized for her work in self-compassion, describes it this way: “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with your own personal suffering.”
In simplest terms, don’t be too hard on yourself, and remind your team members of the same, especially when it comes to loneliness. Recognize that it’s a legitimate human emotion and make room for it. Once you do that, you’ll be more able to identify helpful actions you can take to alleviate it.
Loneliness at work is real. I encourage you to engage one or more of these strategies to begin to return your team to thriving. The effort will be well worth it.