You’re not alone in feeling lonely at work. I’ve sure felt it. I remember most keenly the first day working at one of those big, professional consulting firms. One of the Big 4. It started with riding up in the elevator to a floor where your ears pop and you then step out onto a floor with lots of cold, hard surfaces and glass, glass and more glass. That just made the whole experience more daunting.
I didn’t know anyone apart from my new boss who was nowhere to be seen. I was shown my desk by someone from HR and left with some reading material. That was the first hour. No wonder I felt lonely.
That was until the person in the next cubicle came back to her desk, and said “Hi” and “What are you doing for lunch?”. The relief for me was palpable.
It’s no surprise then, two whole years later, that I felt sad when she left the organisation. While I didn’t go to work to socialise, it sure made my days brighter having at least one person I trusted with more than my ‘game face’.
Feeling lonely at work is an organisational concern
As it turns out, feeling lonely at work is pervasive. We have a range of different needs for human connection and these relational needs matter at work too. The need to feel validated or the need to belong, for example. When our relational needs aren’t met well enough, we simply can’t bring our best to anything we do.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that loneliness at work has been linked to withdrawal from work, lower productivity, motivation and performance. We don’t want that.
And it’s also why feeling lonely may well be personal, but it’s most definitely not a private concern. It’s an organisational issue.
How to reduce loneliness at work
If you sense someone is lonely, kindness and ordinary civility can make a really big difference:
- Say hello and give them the duchenne smile (that’s the real smile where your eyes are smiling too).
- Ask them how they are and mean it. That means taking the time to really listen to what they say.
- Ask them what they’re doing for lunch (I know that one works).
And if you’re feeling lonely, then try the steps above too. It’s important to not give up on yourself. To not resign yourself to being lonely and hiding behind the idea that you don’t come to work to socialise.
I know it’s tricky if you work virtually or your team is dispersed.
I know it’s not cool as a leader to show vulnerability at work. Who wants to admit to feeling lonely?
AND I know how important it is to have your relational needs met. Whether it’s the mutual experience of having someone to have lunch with, to feel safe and secure when you’re talking through issues you’re grappling with, to have someone to look up to who helps you see what’s possible for yourself.
We may like the idea of being able to do things on our own, but no one can. And no one does.
And if you are feeling lonely at work, especially if you’re at the top of the tree where some things aren’t smart to share but it would sure help if you could, then get yourself a coach or a mentor. Find your safe place. Because, as they say… “You’re worth it!”