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How to Beat Workplace Loneliness and Enjoy Work Again
By Jenn DeWall Confidence and Leadership Trainer, Motivational Speaker & Workplace Culture Expert.
Are you part of the workplace loneliness epidemic? Honestly, you are not alone! A recent Ernst & Young survey of more than 5,000 workers in Brazil, China, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. found that 82 percent of respondents have felt lonely at work. Nearly half of those polled are lonelier now than before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to EY's report. Those numbers are startling!
Workplace Loneliness is a Real Problem
Well, we all know it is no fun to be lonely, but loneliness also has a big impact on our health, both mentally and physically. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, the health risk of prolonged loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social isolation and loneliness have even been estimated to shorten a person's life span by as many as 15 years!
Feeling lonely at work can also cause us to lose focus and motivation and kill our drive to succeed. When people feel lonely, they tend to withdraw emotionally, which can really affect the quality and quantity of work and collaboration. It’s also a big factor in workplace burnout.
How to Overcome Workplace Loneliness
If you’ve been feeling lonely at work and it’s affecting your ability to be productive or causing you to get depressed or anxious, it is time to take action. We spend so much of our lives at work; it isn’t healthy to spend that time feeling unhappy. A sense of community at work can improve your mood, give you energy, and make work enjoyable, and we all deserve that!
First, Look at Why You Are Feeling Lonely
The first step to beating loneliness is to look at why you may feel that way. Sometimes we withdraw from others because of social anxiety or other mental health issues. Or maybe you recently experienced a loss or other personal situation that caused you to self-isolate due to grief or sadness. If this is the case, seeking professional support such as counseling or support groups may make sense.
External factors can also cause loneliness. Maybe you work remotely and feel disconnected. Or perhaps your workplace has some toxic qualities that make you feel excluded or undervalued. Sometimes people feel like they just don’t fit in with their co-workers. Maybe your team members are much older or much younger, or you’re an introvert in a room full of extroverts. There are a lot of reasons you may not feel connected to your colleagues.
Once you have looked at the underlying issues causing your loneliness, you can take some action to start feeling more connected at work.
Do Something Nice for Someone Else
Sometimes the best way to start feeling better and to improve connection is to do something nice for someone else. It can be as simple as bringing a surprise treat into the office to share, writing a thank you note to someone who helped you with something, or giving a genuine compliment to a colleague. These small gestures are a gateway to connecting with other people and can create opportunities to get to know your team members a little better!
Work on Your Small Talk
Small talk gets a bad rap sometimes, but in reality, it is how we get to know people and start to build trust. Small talk may feel like torture if you aren’t confident or are naturally more introverted. But anyone can learn to get better at small talk and use it to build real connections with other people. You can get some great tips about improving your small talk from Debra Fine’s book, The Fine Art of Small Talk. Small talk is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice, and once you master it, it can be truly life-changing!
Find Common Interests
If you’ve been feeling lonely at work because you don’t have much in common with your co-workers, you may need to share a little more about yourself. Sometimes when we aren’t feeling confident socially, we also don’t let people see our personality. Use your new small talk skills to start conversations about what they like to do in their spare time, and remember to share about your own hobbies and interests. You might be pleasantly surprised!
Look for Other Opportunities
If you feel isolated because your workplace is toxic, it is not always possible to improve it! If a particular co-worker is creating an uncomfortable working environment, talk to your manager. If it’s a toxic trait that is embedded throughout the organization and there are no signs that leadership would like to change it, then removing yourself from that environment may be the best course of action. There are a lot of workplaces out there, and you can find one where you feel valued and appreciated. You have to prioritize your mental and emotional health.
Don’t Give Up!
Everyone deserves to feel accepted and valued at work. Don’t prolong your suffering. Reach out for help if you need it! Try working with a life coach— it can help you change your mindset, build confidence and grow personally and professionally. More importantly, take chances and reach out to others; you’ll be surprised how many people also feel lonely! We can make a positive impact on ourselves and others by finding the courage to connect!
Jenn DeWall is a motivational speaker, facilitator, trainer, and podcast host. Jenn is a Millennial leadership and culture expert based in Denver, CO.