In 2016, a writer for The Guardian published an opinion piece about the need for companies to tackle loneliness in the workplace. The author explained the constant sense of disconnection that they feel within their organization, and their unfulfilled desire to feel understood and appreciated by the people around him.
The writer also feels so much embarrassment around their loneliness that the article is anonymous.
According to a 2018 study by the global health service company Cigna, nearly half of Americans report feeling alone sometimes or always. One in four Americans rarely or never feel like there are people who really understand them. Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful, and that they are isolated from others. Only 53 percent of people in the U.S. have meaningful in-person social interactions, like an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
These numbers only get worse when someone undergoes a major life transition—like moving from one city to another. And since the majority of that person’s time will be spent at work, it makes sense that the company has a responsibility to foster a culture of connection.
As Douglas Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna, said in a report, “There is an inherent link between loneliness and the workplace, with employers in a unique position to be a critical part of the solution… While one solution won’t stop this growing public health issue, we’ve started to make changes to our business to help our clients and others to tackle loneliness and realize their vitality.”
In order to keep your employees at your company, and ensure they are holistically happy, what can you do?
Offer A Community Concierge
A 2016 study in Social Indicators Research calls moving “a perfect storm of unhappiness.” They reveal that, as someone who has recently moved, you are lonely because you don’t have close friends, yet too depleted to invest in social engagements.
As an employer, you have a great opportunity to take the hard work out of finding social engagements for your relocated staff. Yet you don’t need to sit down with everyone one-on-one yourself. Instead, hire a concierge service whose specialty is creating community for people who have recently moved. For example, my company, The Joy List, creates custom calendars for people who recently moved to NYC. It’s a way to understand their interests, and connect them to people and communities who will help them feel deeply loved and challenge them to be the best version of themselves.
Other concierge services include Pivt and Relocity. Whatever you do, just choose something. Remember: People who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face. You’re helping your employees improve their overall health.
Find Your Company Connectors
Every community has someone who absolutely loves connecting people to each other. You’ll recognize them by their insane amount of Facebook friends, a friendly grin, and the fact that at least three people have told you, “Wait, you haven’t met (insert name here) yet? They know everyone!”
If you have a company Slack channel, locating these people is easy. Simply post something along the lines of:
“Hey everyone! We’ve got a new employee moving from Chicago who loves ballroom dancing. Who should I connect him to?”
You’ll be surprised by how many people respond. Folks love to help. You just need to give them permission to do their thing.
Bonus: If you have the budget to give someone a “super connector” title, pay them to make introductions for your new staff. Community builders are woefully undervalued in our society, and paying them is a great way to ensure that they keep building the social fabric of your company—and make it a priority.
Create Meaningful Gatherings
How many times have you been at a gathering and wished that you were somewhere else? That thought crosses my mind almost any time I’m at a networking happy hour, conference, or panel. There’s this feeling that the organizer phoned it in. Somebody gave them a template, and they copied it.
Whenever I sense this, it genuinely hurts me. Bringing people together, whether it’s for a 100th birthday or a brainstorming session, is a sacred opportunity. Whether you know it or not, the people in that room are craving connection. They want to feel like someone cares about them. Yet all too often, the chance to create a moment of connection is wasted.
Why? Because we think too small.
Bringing people together is an opportunity to create an alternate universe. A great example of that is Medi Club, a monthly gathering of meditators in NYC. The event includes someone from the community standing to share a vulnerable story, and attendees getting into groups with three strangers to discuss questions like, “Who is someone that you need to forgive? How would your life change if you did?” Suddenly, folks who had never spoken before can drop into meaningful conversation—all because someone else modeled the level of vulnerability that is appropriate for the space. They were given permission to engage in the type of meaningful connection that we all crave.
Why not create a space that suggest that your employees can feel like family to each other, and share what’s actually on their hearts? Sure, that sounds like a challenge. But it’s one that will make everyone within your walls healthier and happier.
Value Holistic Health
According to Cigna, people who report being less lonely are more likely to be in good overall physical and mental health, have good relationships with their coworkers, and have found a balance in their daily activities, including getting the right amount of sleep, socialization, and work/life balance.
In order to create a sense of connection within your company, you need to prioritize meaningful interactions. And this will only be possible if you have a work culture that gives employees the breathing time to interact.
Look around your office. Is everyone eating lunch at their desk? Are folks working until 8 PM, only to immediately head home? If so, people are so burned out that they will never have the space to connect. Even if this is the norm of other companies in your industry, that doesn’t mean that you should follow it. As Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”