Loneliness in the Workplace: Symptoms and Solutions

The workplace is busy and bustling, full of people coming to and from meetings, photocopiers, and each other's cubicles. However, despite the high potential for social interaction, many people still feel lonely at their place of employment.
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Co-authored with Melissa Smith

The workplace is busy and bustling, full of people coming to and from meetings, photocopiers, and each other's cubicles. However, despite the high potential for social interaction, many people still feel lonely at their place of employment. They, like most other people, sit down with their coffee or tea in the corner and work diligently, nodding to familiar faces, but these actions do not contribute to making positive connections and building human relationships. This type of unwanted solitude can be difficult to discover, as displaying emotions at work is not the social norm in society. People are afraid of appearing weak, and therefore cloak themselves in order to avoid judgment.

This phenomenon can be caused by a wide variety of different reasons, from private family matters to mental illnesses. Abusive relationships, sickness, loss of a relationship, death of a loved one, financial worries, dominating boss/colleague, discrimination at work, work pressure, worries of children's education/career, immigration issues (mostly in people who move to other countries for a better life), and other home based factors play major roles in the development of loneliness. Most of the time, because of the way the setting is structured, diagnosing and helping a co-worker during work hours is not appropriate or possible. Therefore, there remain only two options for alleviating the burden for those suffering: either prevent the situation or help to tame the consequences outside of a scheduled work day.

In order to put the first choice into action, one must evaluate what policies are preventing meaningful connections in the first place. From forcing workers to compete with each other for their salaries to establishing rigid and unnatural privacy through the use of thick cubicle dividers, anything that promotes isolation will need to be noted. After possible causes are listed, choose one main issue to be presented to a superior or whoever is in charge of managing the company's rules. Be succinct and straightforward, suggesting solutions instead of complaining mindlessly. They might not immediately adopt the idea, but planting the seed in their mind is a good start regardless. Be prepared to champion the idea that you suggest. If you want more collaboration in the office have a way to collaborate and offer to be the team lead.

At the same time, a more personal approach needs to be taken with people who are already feeling alone. There is no need to take them to a fancy restaurant (they are not charity cases) or force them to admit their personal problems (definitely crossing the line); but feel free to bring them along when another coworker is throwing a celebration or a group of people who are heading to the diner downstairs. Silent gestures are a powerful way to communicate to someone that they matter. Your actions speak much louder than your words. Instead of asking a coworker if he/she wants a coffee or tea just bring them their favorite drink with a smile. Tell them when you thought of them while reading an interesting article or saw a project similar to something they have been working on. Introduce them to initiatives in the office that they might be interested in participating in. For instance, if a thought leadership team is being formed and they could offer insight let them know you believe that they would be a good fit. Some offices have brought in yoga instructors and masseuses. This kind of meditation and relaxation can be positive for everyone and give people something to look forward to. It also offers the physical touch that humans require in a manner appropriate for the office.

Making sure everyone feels included is a good way to boost positivity and initiate the process of bonding as a team. As demonstrated, workplace loneliness is a serious problem that is barely noticeable and can be difficult to address in a formal situation. However, it has negative impacts on productivity, creates tension, and can even lead to mental and physical illnesses. Therefore, everyone has a moral obligation to help those in need by telling them they are welcome at the place where they spend one-third or more of their day in. Improving a situation rarely comes from the efforts of just the CEO or the president of the company; it often is the result of everyday workers seeking to make a difference.

(Gurdeep Pandher thankfully acknowledges valuable thoughts/ideas contributed by freelance writer and productivity consultant Melissa Smith in the formation of this article.)

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