Have you heard about the workplace loneliness epidemic? It's the theory that we're all at work alone, together. Now all the alone time on the clock is getting to us!
The more technology brings us together, the more it's pulling us apart. Why talk to each other at work when we can simply text each other?
At the same time, the workplace has become the main social scene (or only social scene) for too many employees. We want to be close friends with our co-workers, only to find it doesn't really work like that in today's competitive work environments. And the work itself isn't filling the void.
Bottom line: loneliness is hurting our overall health.
As the Washington Post's Jenna McGregor writes:
Most people go to work wanting to enjoy their relationships with the people they're working with, wanting to feel like they are contributing to something meaningful in the world. But that is not the experience many people have. Many people feel that the folks they're working with are work colleagues, but they wouldn't call them friends. They wouldn't describe them as people they can trust. And there's a real lost opportunity there, because when people have strong connections with the people they're working with that can not only improve productivity and the overall state of the company, but it can also improve their own health.
We come into the workplace with high expectations, only to find that the work often isn't as meaningful and fulfilling as we thought it would be. Couple this realization with technological isolation -- and the co-worker who just took credit for our work in the morning meeting, ahem -- and we're left thinking: "Is this all there is?"
It's Not Personal, It's Business
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like so many people have come to place greater value on their work relationships than on their personal relationships. We expect our personal relationships with friends and family to orbit around our work relationships when it's our personal relationships that sustain us through thick and thin. So what can we do when our work relationships feel less than fulfilling? Here are ten tips for fighting the loneliness epidemic both on, and off, the clock:
1. Pick up the phone once a day. Make a call the next time you're tempted to email or text a customer or colleague. No, really! Call instead of emailing once a day, just to keep your talking chops up. The other person will probably be shocked as hell that you actually called, but it's a good opportunity to forge real, human bonds that won't happen in cyberspace.
2. Go for a walk on your break. Get away from your work area and go for a walk! It clears your head, and you'll bump into people along the way. Plus, you'll put a few thousand steps on your Fitbit. Don't eat lunch at your desk, either. Go where the people are!
3. Make conversation. A passing conversation with a colleague, customer or even a total stranger can have a wonderful effect on our day. If you're stuck for topics, try the weather. I haven't met anyone who won't talk about the weather, and it always segues into better topics. If you don't use your conversational skills, you'll lose them!
4. Do a good deed every day. Holding the door open for other people, lending assistance to somebody carrying a heavy box -- or any other variety of very small gestures -- can bring a smile to another person's face, which has the odd effect of making us feel better about things, too. The glow can linger all day.
5. Have a hobby. I cannot overstate the importance of having a hobby outside of work. Yoga, a book club, playing in a local orchestra, a running group -- whatever makes you feel good and puts you in a room with other people who don't work at your company. It will broaden your horizons. Added bonus: it will force you to stop talking shop for a few hours.
6. Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to put everything about life in perspective. You might volunteer at a local senior facility, in your community, or even for your neighborhood association. Google local volunteer opportunities for your town, and get out there!
7. Get a dog. Dogs are man's (and woman's) best friend, and you'll make friends with other dog owners very quickly. Dogs are always happy to see us, even if we've only been gone for five minutes. They are loyal companions who are always there for us. (Cats are nice too, albeit a bit standoffish. You work for them.)
8. Use your vacation time. I know: you're scared to take time off. Out of sight means out of mind, means out of a job, right? But use your vacation days; you've earned them! You need to have an annual adventure outside of your employer's four walls. It's good for the mind, body and soul.
9. Stop all the self-imposed pressure. If I'm not VP by next year, then I won't...you know the game. Think of your career as akin to "eating an elephant", a phrase novelists use to mean writing one page per day of a 200-page novel. And some days, no words get onto the page. That's life. We can't have it all at once; we just try to make a little bit of progress each day.
10. Reassess your personal relationships. How often are you putting off personal relationships for work, and how might you make more time for friends and family? Follow through on personal commitments. If you told a friend you'd be there for the 6 o'clock barbecue, then show up. Work at spending time with those who enjoy your company away from the company.
I'm sure there are many other tips, and please feel free to share yours. Above all, we need to work at our in-person communications skills just as much as we focus on getting our work done. Now go forth and pick up the phone.