By Suzette Tagg, Co-founder, Director of Libratum
Just like the Beatles in 1966, when they shone the spotlight on loneliness, with their Grammy award-winning song, Eleanor Rigby, the same applies to loneliness in the workplace today. Even before the pandemic, loneliness was on the rise. The seismic shift to remote working, coupled with enforced social distancing and isolation, represents a significant challenge for businesses who want to build and maintain a connected culture.
Loneliness has many causes, ranging from a life-changing event, situation or circumstances to internal influences, such as a lack of confidence, self-esteem and physical or psychological disorders. Whatever the cause, loneliness has a profound impact on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It has a huge impact for businesses too.
The most significant, is the link between loneliness and stress. Loneliness creates tension that our body interprets as a threat. This elevates our stress hormones and triggers our sympathetic nervous system into fight or flight mode. Left unchecked, the effects of loneliness and stress can lead to burn-out, chronic inflammation and disease. It’s no coincidence, that stress is also on the rise and the cost to business is enormous.
The biggest myth about loneliness is that it is about being alone. As a Coach, I have heard many stories of loneliness, each one very different from the last, yet there is a common red thread. It’s the feeling of being disconnected from ourselves, others, as well as our sense of purpose and belonging in the world.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the third level of motivation for human beings is the psychological need for love and belonging. This need must be met even before self-esteem and self-fulfilment. Yet, in western affluent society and today’s highly-driven work culture, we assume that everyone is operating at the higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy of self-esteem and self-fulfilment. If we want a thriving workforce that performs at its absolute best, a good place to start is to ensure foundational human needs are met first.
As social creatures, our need for authentic connections and to feel accepted for who we are, is fundamental. People deprived of love and belonging often experience pain, sadness and a sense of unworthiness, despite being able to function on a day-to-day level fairly well. To connect mentally, emotionally and physically with others and the world around us, is so fundamental to our overall wellbeing that it is almost impossible to increase employee performance without meeting this need first.Above all, to be heard and accepted without judgment or fear of rejection.
This is evident in CPID research, that shows the main risk to employee health is psychological, yet only around half of organisations have employee wellbeing on their senior leaders’ agendas.The solution to tackling loneliness in the workplace demands more than simply bringing people together. Even in a room full of people, we can experience loneliness. Rather, we must foster authentic connections, where people feel safe and accepted for who they are.
In Libratum interviews with leading business coaches and NLP practitioners on this topic, we learned that when employers create an inclusive, family-like workplace culture, it provides a solid foundation for building authentic connections, where each team member embraces the next and looks out for one another.
In my recent interview with Andy Stoker, co-founder of 30,000 days and member of the judging panel on the 2020 Business Culture Awards, Andy talked about the importance of responsible leadership and actively encourages leaders to behave like responsible foster parents.
“In wanting the very best for everyone in your team, it creates a family-like atmosphere. Positive relationships we develop in the workplace, spill over into our personal lives, creating a more positive state of mind” Andy Stoker
Connection and purpose are intrinsically linked when it comes to combatting loneliness. In a positive family-like environment, they co-exist, as the family unites to support one another, aligned in shared values and beliefs. The magic happens when we bringconnectionand purpose together, that creates a sense of belonging.
A great example of these two elements working together is where forward-thinking companies and technology experts have united as a community with a shared goal of solving some of the world’s biggest global challenges, such as green energy, climate change or poverty. People from different backgrounds and cultures come together with a common passion and purpose to solve for something bigger than themselves and in the process build authentic connections.
It can take time to build an inclusive culture within an organisation, so consistency matters. HR leaders can play an important role in welcoming people into the organisation and helping individuals to feel accepted, as part of the family. Working proactively with business leaders to implement a comprehensive wellbeing strategy and develop the skills required to build a conscious culture of authentic leadership.
David Ogden Stiers, American actor and conductor once said, “Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten”. Imagine the possibilities and opportunities we can create for ourselves and others, if as leaders, we bring to life, the same family-like environment in the workplace to combat loneliness, facilitate authentic connections and inspire a shared vision and purpose.
Find out more about how Libratum can help your people and leaders thrive, by contacting us at email@example.com
Read more: What is Wellbeing and Why Does It Matter?
Read more: Learn about Libratum's Employee Wellness Hub