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Money Matters: Your employees aren’t bored; they’re lonely

By J'Nel Wright - Special to the Daily Herald | Jun 15, 2024

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A growing cause of employee disengagement at the workplace is loneliness brought about by decreased opportunities for interoffice socialization and personal feedback.

Does the workplace feel disconnected? Unproductive? There are plenty of reasons why your employees don’t seem engaged with work, but one reason that is rarely identified is loneliness.

When was the last time workers in your office visited around the water cooler or grabbed lunch together? With the onset of remote work, impromptu socializing in traditional workplace settings is less likely when there are no in-person encounters, particularly for those who live alone or have limited social networks outside of work.

The increased use of digital communication and remote work has made loneliness in the office an increasingly pressing issue, with 16% of remote workers reporting struggling with loneliness. Loneliness has reached epidemic proportions, with substantial financial implications. Research shows that workplace absenteeism due to loneliness-related stress costs U.S. companies around $154 billion annually.

We’re a lonely bunch. The question is, what can employers do to help a growing problem?

“We spend approximately 90,000 hours at work, making social connectedness in the workplace critical as it positively influences employee satisfaction, performance, creativity, and overall competence,” Wendy Coduti, Ph.D., and LaToya Rodriquez explained in an article published by Prudential.

As companies highlight loneliness awareness this month, let’s explore the financial impact and simple solutions that may slow the spread.

How common is loneliness in the workplace?

Evidence says people are increasingly lonely and craving connections. Over half (69%) of employees admitted they are unsatisfied with their social connections at work, and 43% don’t feel connected with co-workers.

What is the financial impact of lonely employees?

Many companies underestimate the impact of supportive work environments and social ties on employee engagement, creativity and productivity. Loneliness is generally seen as a personal problem rather than a working issue, and most employers do not believe they are responsible.

However, with the growing popularity of remote and hybrid work models, employers must understand that promoting social ties and managing loneliness are essential.

Consider this:

  • Employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $8.8 trillion in lost productivity.
  • Lonely workers report being twice as likely to miss a day of work due to illness and five times as likely to miss a day of work due to stress.
  • Lonely employees think about quitting more than twice as often as their non-lonely counterparts.

Engaged employees are not only happy at work, but they also value their positions and strive to achieve their company’s goals,” Christopher Pappas explained. “They understand their role perfectly and how it fits into organizational success and brand image. In turn, their company appreciates everything they do and supports their developmental goals.”

A Gallup poll found that an engaged workforce generates 23% more profitability and enjoys 66% better well-being than disengaged employees.

What can employers do?

The solution seems simple at face value, but with today’s growing remote and hybrid work settings, carrying out initiatives to tackle the emotional well-being of workers will take more effort. Here are some places to start:

1. Encourage social connections

Work doesn’t need to feel like “work” all the time. “People are more lonely than ever, even though there’s been more connection than ever,” said Amy Cook, CMO at Fullcast. “We try to balance that in-person camaraderie and the flexibility that comes with being remote.”

For example, Fullcast hosts team-building activities regularly to build camaraderie (in person and virtually). In addition to regular all-company meetings, it encourages smaller casual gatherings among employees who share common interests or schedules. People can choose their level of involvement and social interaction.

2. Leverage technology

Advancements in collaborative technology proved to be a useful and impactful byproduct of the pandemic. With more people having access to applications like Slack, Google Chat and Zoom, workers have more opportunities to connect on platforms dedicated to shared interests, hobbies and anything not work-related.

3. Regular check-ins

Cook often starts online meetings with questions about what employees did over the weekend. This is helpful for her to learn new things about her team and for co-workers to identify common interests.

Managers should also set aside time for one-on-one checkups with employees to gauge their feelings about their jobs, the team or anything else they want to discuss.

Finally, conduct surveys to gauge employees’ satisfaction and sense of connection and work with those results.

A notable study found that absenteeism decreased by 27.5% after a company intervened to improve its team members’ engagement.

4. Acknowledge and thank employees

Get in the habit of regularly thanking and recognizing employees for their accomplishments and positive impact. A whopping 87% of employees feel that receiving necessary recognition plays a massive role in job satisfaction.

“Everyone likes to be recognized for the work they do,” Cook said. By leveraging her familiarity with her team members, she can reinforce her appreciation for employees with customized swag or gift cards that match the person’s interests.

Workers will need time to feel more secure, confident and supported in the workplace. However, by investing in strategies prioritizing social connections, support, feedback and recognition, companies will see a worthwhile return on their investment by creating a more connected and supportive work environment, reducing loneliness, and improving overall employee well-being and productivity.

J’Nel Wright is a content writer at Fullcast, a Silicon Slopes-based, end-to-end RevOps platform that allows companies to design, manage and track the performance of their revenue-generating teams.

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