Warding Off Loneliness on the Job

What is the connection between Theresa May, Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, and the film Rat Race? The UK Prime Minister recently created the role of Minister for Loneliness, hoping to overcome the loneliness epidemic that is a central theme in the latter two. This loneliness epidemic can be particularly dangerous at work.

It can be troubling to observe, when moving through a workplace, how many individuals work side by side without being the least bit connected, despite the fact that colleagues spend more time with one another than they do with anyone else. This has always killed me.

The subject of loneliness is not a new one to researchers. Plenty of work has been published on its impact on mental health, cognitive ability, physical health and even longevity. What is new is the research by Sigal Barsade, professor at Wharton, and Hakan Ozcelikm professor at California State University. What they have found will rouse the manager in you: loneliness in the workplace negatively impacts work performance.

Most studies that have been conducted so far have focused on environments outside of work, assuming that if one is alone in life they are alone all the time. This is actually totally false. According to researchers, loneliness depends a lot on context. In the context of organizations, loneliness is an epidemic with the potential to spiral completely out of control.

Researchers wondered if loneliness, which is essentially a very personal feeling, was just an individual problem or if there might be a correlation with the individual’s company (and their performance)? The results are undeniable, the more lonely employees feel, the worse they perform. I appreciate the conclusion that the researchers arrived at because it debunks the idea that managers need to mind their own business. Watching for symptoms of loneliness in your staff is not meddling or an abuse of position, it is an important part of your job as a manager… so go ahead and stick your nose in!

To Learn More
“Loneliness on the Job: Why No Employee is an Island” (Knowledge@Wharton, March 2018)

“British People Are So Lonely That They Now Have a Minister for Loneliness”(Time.com, January 2018)