Heart Of The Matter

How to deal with loneliness at work

If companies can attend to what employees feel and devise ways to reduce loneliness, it’s a win-win for everyone

Sonali Gupta
Published23 Jun 2024, 07:30 AM IST
Many employees under the age of 35 experience loneliness.
Many employees under the age of 35 experience loneliness. (iStockphoto)

A 32-year-old female client recently said she feels lonely at work. “I’m swamped with multiple projects and responsibilities. At the same time, I feel disconnected and isolated at work. Before the pandemic, there was a predictability with everyone coming to work, water cooler conversations and fewer meetings online. Now things seem to have shifted, everyone seems to be in a rush. Even when we come to office on the same day, a lot of conversations happen online, everyone has lunch at their own time. This seems to be impacting my engagement and motivation.” 

This that has been coming up in therapy sessions over the last few years. The hybrid, remote working situation and our dependence on technology for meetings and catchups seem to be associated with the loneliness that employees experience. According to Gallup’s State of The Global Workplace Report 2024, “Globally, one in five employees report experiencing loneliness a lot of the previous day.” The report points out that loneliness is experienced more by employees below the age of 35. 

This research data along with the evidence I see in therapy sessions is a wake-up call for us all of us. While we try and address this, we need to remember that there is research data at a global level that indicates that individuals are feeling lonely in their personal life too, in the context of friendships and community.

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When employees experience loneliness at the workplace, it impacts their sense of belonging in the organisation. This in turn affects productivity, attrition and workplace motivation. Feelings of social isolation can also cast a shadow on people’s capacity to trust others as well as their own threshold when it comes to stress tolerance and patience. As a result, collaborative work that hinges on interdependence also suffers. 

Many clients have said their real exhaustion comes from a lack of social connections at the workplace and feeling lonely as they navigate difficult work situations. Whether it’s challenging situations or moments of celebration, not feeling seen and heard can lead to a feeling of isolation and disconnection. 

If companies can mindfully attend to what employees are feeling and devise ways to reduce loneliness, then it’s a win-win for everyone. The process would allow for better mental health for the employees and also contribute to organisational health. 

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The first step is for organisations to take cognisance of the short-term and long-term impact of loneliness on employees. Whether through surveys or individual check-ins, organisations can find ways to get a sense of what employees are experiencing. I believe that managers who are empathetic and invested in employee well-being are generally aware of these signs, some of which are visible. 

Training managers when in psychological safety, mindfulness and empathy can help organisations reach out to employees in a timely manner. Research has shown that when employees feel they can ask questions, take interpersonal risks, ask for help and feel supported, they are less likely to feel lonely. Building a culture of psychological safety where reaching out and vulnerability are welcome allows employees to foster deep bonds with one another. 

This combined with a company’s attempt at creating systems and practices that allow employees to build community on a weekly or a monthly basis also helps. One client talked about a manager who started a reading club and a running circle. This became an opportunity for employees to connect on topics beyond work and opened up scope for fun. 

We need to remember that a culture that helps employees feel included and experience social connection allows for greater productivity and engagement.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali

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First Published:23 Jun 2024, 07:30 AM IST
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