6 Ways To Feel Less Lonely In The Workplace was originally published on Ivy Exec.
Loneliness is endemic in the workplace, according to a new survey conducted by Morning Consult and commissioned by Cigna. Executives aren’t immune to loneliness at work, and it’s bad for the brain and business.
Among those in the C-suite, not having anyone on whom to confide or on whom to depend are some of their biggest admitted challenges. The social distance and ensuing lack of social support don’t help those in senior-level positions. In fact, half of the CEOs express loneliness, 61 percent of whom think it could be career-crushing.
Yet, the paradox of loneliness is that no one in its grip is actually alone. Thirty-six percent of all Americans feel lonely – an epidemic only exacerbated by the pandemic. And, if you find yourself feeling ironically isolated amongst the more than a third of the U.S. population who’s right there with you, you probably already know how it hurts your work performance.
The aforementioned Cigna survey of nearly 2,500 respondents purports that those who experience loneliness at work are less likely than their peers to perform at their best. In fact, 47 percent say they’re unable to work efficiently, compared to 64 percent of their peers who can tout their own efficiency. Instead, almost half (42 percent) report feeling “mentally somewhere else” while at work, compared to only 18 percent of workers who don’t combat bouts of loneliness.
It’s no surprise that lonely employees are more than three times as likely to feel dissatisfied as their peers with peace of mind. Nor is it shocking that nearly one in five lonely employees admit that their mental or emotional health “extremely” interferes with work. What’s perhaps not-so-widely understood: Three in 10 lonely employees also report not feeling physically well at work, which is more than double the percentage of people who aren’t silently struggling.
While feeling isolated can certainly take a toll on your mental and, ultimately, physical health, the paucity of productive professionals is costing employers a cool $154 billion per year. In other words: It’s a lose-lose for everyone.
That said, your employer can only be held so accountable for helping you feel less lonely at work. It’s up to you to leverage the resources and opportunities your company makes available to you – or ask for what you need if it’s not readily provided.
How to Deal with Loneliness at Work
Here’s how to pull yourself out of the trenches in six simple steps.
✅ Find your community.
Coping with loneliness at work is a lot easier with a like-minded community. So get involved with employee resource groups (ERGs) or mastermind groups.
ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that aim to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. While ERG initiatives should align with those of the greater organization, they’re intended to serve as safe havens for the employees who identify with them. Examples of ERGs include women’s circles, support systems for working parents, groups for the LGBTQ+ community and allies, networks for people of color, and support groups for veterans.
Almost all organizations utilize ERGs. However, if your organization doesn’t have one you want, you can always start one. Leadership buy-in isn’t necessary, but it could be critical in aligning your mission and garnering support (and members!).
Mastermind groups are great options for executives, as well. These are peer-to-peer mentoring groups in which members collaborate to learn and develop skills, solve problems together, and network. They hold space – physically and virtually – for entrepreneurs and executives alike to talk business.
✅ Engage in after-work networking events and employee-bonding experiences.
If you’re like most people in the pandemic era, you may miss socializing with colleagues outside of your four office walls (especially if that office is at home). Surveys suggest that seven out of 10 employees have felt more isolated since switching to remote work, and meeting up with colleagues is what they miss most.
Whether you go to the office, work from home, or work remotely from anywhere else, engaging with your peers is pertinent to your mental health. Whether you’re virtually networking or catching a happy hour, you’ll certainly feel more connected.
✅ Take advantage of mental health benefits.
Amidst the “Great Resignation,” ever more companies are offering mental health benefits as part of robust benefits packages to attract and retain workers. In fact, 87 percent of U.S. employers report that boosting these benefits is among their top priorities for the next two years.
After all, while 91 percent of Americans are covered by health insurance, that insurance doesn’t necessarily cover mental health treatments. That’s perhaps why more than half of those who are enrolled in health plans don’t have access to the mental health services they need – and why employers are stepping in to help. Almost a quarter of workers say their employers have introduced new mental health services throughout the pandemic.
Find out what services are available to and accessible for you from your employer. It could be talk therapy sessions or health and wellness stipends; whatever the case, it goes wasted, and your loneliness untreated if you don’t take advantage of it.
✅ Ask for help and, dare we say, delegate.
If you’re noticing signs of loneliness at work, it’s time to ask for help. Of course, asking for a hand can be easier said than done – especially given that loneliness is linked to low self-esteem, and confidence is key in admitting struggle. But there’s probably a lot on your plate that’s pushed you to this point, especially for executives.
Don’t be afraid to delegate so long as you smartly select the right people for the right responsibilities. While “self-enhancement bias” (the notion that your perception of quality becomes poorer the less you’re involved) might get the best of you, delegation is necessary for personal and professional growth. And, sometimes, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all alone – especially if you’re feeling alone in doing it.
Setting clear expectations and boundaries, as well as learning to let go, also helps to cultivate a culture of trust and respect. And that’s the kind of environment in which everyone thrives.
✅ Take a much-needed breather.
People are twice as likely to be constantly exhausted as they were 20 years ago. What’s worse: the more wiped out they are, the more lonely they feel. It makes sense that feeling overwhelmed and drained can heighten feelings of isolation and loneliness at work.
So how do you stop burning the candle at both ends and beat burnout? One surefire way to bounce back is to take a break.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research has gone so far as to call the U.S. the “No Vacation Nation.” It’s oft-described as a place with plentiful “work martyrs” who wear busyness as badges of honor.
While a wealth of research reports that vacation time is good for mental and physical health and, ultimately, your productivity, Americans forfeit all too many PTO days. Many cite that “no one else can do the job.” But, lest you forget the point above, delegation is crucial.
So take some time off (ideally spending time outdoors) to rest and recharge. A few days away will be better for you and your career for many more days to come.
✅ Break poor habits at home.
Research shows that leaders who feel lonely have a choice in how they respond. You can respond to your experiences of loneliness positively or negatively when you leave the office and head home.
Those who go home and engage in productive “problem-solving and pondering” are better able to process their workdays. When they can do that, they can evaluate their decisions and ruminate on ways to improve the next day. They’re more likely to be engaged with their work and help their direct reports, reducing feelings of loneliness.
However, the researchers purport that it’s equally possible to perpetuate loneliness by taking stress home with you. Worrying about work and focusing on your frustrations of the day reduces how helpful you can be to your peers the next day. And creating this disconnect only creates more loneliness.
The choice is yours.