In a nutshell: When people feel isolated, they may not be able to contribute their best in the workplace.


People are feeling disconnected at work – and it’s leading to decreased engagement and burnout.

A study by California State University and The Wharton School found that loneliness can negatively influence an employee’s commitment to a workplace and job performance.

Employees who “feel lonely among their co-workers will judge that their organization is not adequately meet their affiliation and social needs and will be less willing to emotionally invest themselves in their organization,” the study stated. In turn, those employees are not going to work as hard or perform as effectively.

Organizations already face challenges addressing a lack of engagement and burnout among the workforce. A 2017 Kronos-Future Workplace study found that 46 percent of HR managers attribute 20 to 50 percent of employee turnover to burnout.

“The impact on organizations can be significant. Burnout can result in lower productivity and engagement as well as higher absenteeism and turnover,” according to an article in HR Magazine.

Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report found that 33 percent of employees in the United States were engaged at work in 2016. And 73 percent of actively disengaged employees – workers considered unhappy and resentful – are more likely to look for work elsewhere.

What’s making people feel disconnected?

The causes of loneliness in the workplace vary.

Low levels of power and autonomy at work – It may lonely for folks at the bottom instead of the top. Adam Waytz, management professor at Northwestern University, wrote in a 2015 New York Times article about a series of studies examining the relationship between power and loneliness. His research found that “the more powerful people perceived themselves to be in their everyday lives, the less frequently they reported feeling lonely.”

Emphasis on self-reliance – The California State-Wharton study cited people’s hesitation to burden others with their issues, as “many lonely people may not mention their sense of isolation because they feel others will be unable to help them alleviate their discomfort.”

Online communication replacing face-to-face conversation – In some cases, the prevalence of technology may play a role. MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who studies people’s relationships with technology, wrote in a New York Times article: “We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely.”

How to battle loneliness

Addressing loneliness at work takes effort. Encouraging bonds between employees is one way to address the issue. “Simply put, employees who know and like one another are more energized and motivated, and therefore less likely to burn out and depart the organization,” said Melanie Peacock, HR consultant/owner, Double M Training and Consulting, in Calgary, Canada, in an HR Magazine article.

Promoting a supportive culture at work can bring about happier, more productive employees. Research from Kim Cameron at the University of Michigan found that demonstrating support, care, inspiration and other positive actions can improve performance.


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