15 Aug Loneliness: An Epidemic, and a Threat to Your Business
Cigarettes used to be one of America’s greatest health threats, but can you guess what the modern equivalent is?
According to a recent Surgeon General advisory, the United States is facing a severe epidemic of loneliness and isolation, with devastating consequences for individuals and society as a whole. Loneliness has been categorized as a “public health crisis”, and the U.S. Surgeon General says, “we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders. Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.” Given that the average American spends one third of their life at work, the workplace plays a critical role in tackling this epidemic.
Fostering friendships and a sense of community in the workplace is crucial, not only for individual and collective health, but also for the health of your business. It doesn’t mean that we have to bring everyone back into the brick and mortar office. With intentionality, we can tackle this whether we are virtual, in the office or someplace in between.
Create a Sense of Community
Workplace friendships and a strong sense of community provide a much-needed antidote to the pervasive loneliness epidemic. Cultivating meaningful connections with colleagues can create a supportive network, where individuals feel valued, understood, and included. When employees have positive relationships in the workplace, they are more likely to experience higher job satisfaction, engagement, and overall well-being. Friendships and a sense of community also contribute to better mental health outcomes, as they serve as a buffer against stress and provide emotional support during challenging times. Moreover, when people feel connected to their colleagues, they are more likely to collaborate, communicate effectively, and achieve better outcomes as a team, fostering a positive and thriving work environment.
Our need to belong is hardwired and has existed throughout human history; it’s also one of the building blocks of community. To increase productivity, innovation, and retain top talent, you must have a strong, healthy community — both inside and around your organization. (Don’t forget: healthy communities are built of diverse people with distinct personalities and lived experiences.)
The truth is your organization and you as a leader can only be as happy as your least happy employee. Happy, healthy, engaged employees who look forward to showing up to work bring more to the table, while also benefiting from enjoying their job and being connected to their colleagues. Happy employees are loyal employees.
Be a Matchmaker
Make it a priority to help your employees make friends at work. Day-to-day relationships at work impact employee performance and satisfaction. In fact, Gallup found great teams were built on the foundation of strong work friendships. In fact, having a best friend at work led to having more productive work groups and more engaged employees. People who reported to have a best friend at work were 27 percent more likely to report their company’s mission makes them feel like their job is important. Help employees connect through workplace celebrations, team-building activities, and even pairing them up for small conversations with people they don’t know—not to talk about work but about who they are and what they want.
Building relationships may be tough for some employees and it may mean going out of their comfort zone. Support them and remind them that they can make the community healthier by being an ally to their colleagues. Encourage opportunities for team members to get to know the people they work with in a genuine way and make efforts to understand the challenges they face. We love facilitating DiSC or CliftonStrengths workshops as a way to jump start team members getting to know each other.
Make It Safe to Ask For Help
Encourage employees to ask for help, and offer it too whether you are the team leader or team member. When you’re on a team, you get the advantage of having a group of people working toward a common goal. Sometimes you may encounter scenarios you could struggle through on your own, but the point of a team is you don’t have to. Look at it this way— when you show your colleagues you’re open to asking for help, you make it safer for them to do the same.When we think of loneliness, most of us might get an image of an older person at an elderly home, feeling disconnected much later in life. In fact, loneliness is all around us, all the time. It affects everyone – especially youth. Craving a sense of belonging is innate to being human. If you aren’t giving your employees a sense of belonging at work, you’re not providing them all the tools they need to succeed. By fostering friendships in the workplace, we can build stronger businesses, communities, and individuals.