As the workplace continues to be reformed by technology, flexible work hours and the option of working from home, loneliness in the corporate world is becoming increasingly prevalent. According to a survey quoted by The Guardian, 42% of respondents felt that they did not have a close friend at work. Despite sitting in an office filled with colleagues, many employees experience loneliness at their workplace.
It sounds ironic that one can feel lonely in a room full of others. However, loneliness does not arise as much from being physically isolated, but rather from experiencing an absence of belonging. Technology as an alternate way of communication has played a major role in this. The world is at our fingertips: the push of a button can send information through in a split second. Hitting send on an email or whatsapp is easier than aligning schedules for an in-person meeting. This takes away the physical aspects of social interaction and reduces the time we spend building a community with our colleagues. It often leads to isolation or loneliness, even before we have noticed it happening.
Such loneliness has been exacerbated as communication technology has made working from home possible, where most of the communication involves words on a screen and pending message bubbles. While this allows for a plethora of opportunities and flexible schedules, it again reduces the likelihood of us forming strong relationships with our colleagues.
Technology has also been suggested to contribute to heavier workloads and longer working hours. We are often expected to be available online any time of day, anywhere we are. Faster access to information has increased the speed at which we are expected to complete projects. With increasing amount of work piling onto desks causing work hours to stretch later into the day, it comes as no surprise that many people choose to rush home to spend the remaining time with their family. In doing so, they may end up leaving behind those happy hour drinks and socializing with colleagues.
So does loneliness in the workplace actually matter if we are still having a good time with family and friends?
Loneliness in the workplace can have a profound impact on work efficiency and productivity. According to a study conducted at California State University and Wharton School of Business, loneliness has a negative correlation with work performance, with loneliness linked to reduced commitment to the company, lower motivation and emotional withdrawal. Crucially, we often spend most of our week at work, so how we feel during our workday can have long-lasting effects on our overall wellbeing.
Good relationships formed in the workplace prevent loneliness and can be vital to maintaining a positive atmosphere and productivity. So how can we combat this rising trend of loneliness in the corporate world?
- Face to face communication: Although it may be so much easier to call each other through Skype, going the extra mile to organise face to face meetings can be worth the while.
- Get to know our colleagues: While simply greeting each other every morning may seem enough, it will not hurt to plan lunches for our teams every once in a while. It allows everyone to bond and interact with one another on a more personal level.
- Collaboration spaces: Creating collaboration spaces in the office can further encourage interaction between colleagues, allowing them to form friendships. By sparking communication and creativity, these spaces have been shown to not only improve cohesion, but also stimulate inspired problem-solving and out-of-the-box thinking.