Lonely at Work

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The New York Times published an excellent article by Phyllis Korkki on Sunday, January 29, titled "Building a Bridge to a Lonely Colleague." Here's the opening paragraph.

"IT’S lonely at the top, or so it is said. But in fact it doesn’t matter where a person is in the office hierarchy — employees at all levels become lonely, even when other workers are all around them. Research into loneliness has tended to focus on people’s private lives and on groups that may be prone to it, like the elderly. But some researchers have done studies on workplace loneliness, and have found that it hurts not only individuals but organizations as a whole."

It's true that anyone can become lonely and the article does a nice job of distinguishing "loneliness" from "depression" and from "solitude." You should read the whole thing.

But if you're a boss, it does matter to you where you are in the hierarchy. You have two key objectives: accomplish the mission and care for your people. And lonely team member challenges you on both fronts.Friendship is the key.

When you have friends, at work and otherwise, you're less likely to be lonely. Gallup has been highlighting the importance of friends at work for years. Tom Rath (author of Vital Friends) put it this way in a Gallup Management Journal article titled "What Are Workplace Buddies Worth?"

"There's incredible value in having a best friend at work. Having a best friend at work increases your chances of being engaged almost sevenfold. And some preliminary Gallup research suggests that having three or four very close or vital friendships at work might increase your engagement even more."

So, a lonely team member can affect how well your team accomplishes the mission. That's not all Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky (author of The How of Happiness) points out that "people who are lonely or in unhappy relationships suffer severe ill effects, including depression, anxiety, jealousy, stress and impaired health."

You want to care for him or her. And you want to help your team be as productive as possible. What can you do?

You don't need to be a therapist, in fact, you shouldn't try to assume that role. Work on increasing communication between team members. Relationships grow through communication. For your part, as the boss, be sure that you're expressing thanks and appreciation.

Boss's Bottom Line

The best antidote to loneliness is a friend or two or three. That's as true for you as it is for your team members. Friends make life better, at work and everywhere else.

Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.



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