Do you remember the feeling of walking through the cafeteria with your lunch tray nervously trying to find a place to sit amongst the other kids? Lunchroom anxiety extends well beyond high school. This social discomfort can be spotted in offices all around the world. Companies are regularly discussing how to help their employees feel more comfortable and less lonely at work.
What caused this loneliness? Some of the blame can be placed on the new trend of open office floor plans. The goal of this new office design was to increase collaboration, however, a study done by Harvard Business School researchers Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban titled The Impact of the Open Workspace on Human Collaboration found that on average, an employee had 4.1 hours less of face-to-face interactions per day in an open office floor plan. Instead of open collaboration, they saw employees depending on messenger applications to communicate. Most individuals were spending most of their day wearing headphones to block out noise rather than be openly available for conversation.
Other people point out that the problem of employee loneliness seemed to come along with the newest generation of the workforce, Generation Z. This generation tends to shy away from making initial interactions face-to-face. A study done by Cigna found that over half of U.S. adults report feeling lonely and the most lonely generation was indeed, Gen Z. How does this impact work? According to Cigna’s findings, “lonely workers say they are less engaged, less productive and report lower retention rates”. Additionally, lonely employees are “twice as likely to miss a day of work due to illness and five times more likely to miss work due to stress” (Our Loneliness and the Workplace: 2020 Report)
Here are some solutions that can be implemented at your organization to help combat workplace loneliness:
- Help your employees network within your organization. Make introductions for them.
- Take time for meaningful conversations at your office or via Zoom video chats. Only 53% of adults report having meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis (Cigna Study). With Americans spending the majority of their time at work, this can be changed by adjusting workplace behaviors to incorporate meaningful conversations.
- Provide work-life balance so that your employees have the time and energy to connect with their family and friends.
- Ask new and remote employees questions such as; Do you have family or roommates who live with you? Or are you involved in any clubs, committees or teams in your city? Asking these questions will help leadership identify team members who may be feeling lonely and could use additional support connecting within your organization.
- Have a company-wide conversation about interactivity and the culture/environment you want to create at your organization. You can encourage your employees to sit by someone new in the cafe and to introduce themselves in-person when they pass someone in the office that they have not met before. These things may seem natural but having leadership promote this behavior goes a long way.
- If you have an open office floor plan, consider asking employees to spend a portion of their day without their headphones on. It will make them more approachable to their coworkers looking to converse.
- Utilize the first 2-3 minutes of your video meetings for chit-chat but be prepared for this chit-chat with meaningful questions. Ask your co-workers about their kids who are doing schooling from home. Ask them about something new they have learned lately or if there is a fun vacation they may be planning. By being prepared for these few minutes of small-talk you can maximize the impact they have on combating employee loneliness.
Shaka Culture Application was built to help your employees create new relationships within your organization. Specifically, the connections feature automatically pairs employees with someone outside of their department for a 20-minute conversation. It takes the pressure and anxiety out of reaching out to a new employee to get to know them better. We are proud that our application creates more in-person conversations and helps HR leaders combat loneliness at their organization.