Loneliness at the workplace is so rampant across organisations that it has started affecting the bottom line. An analysis by Cigna in 2020, suggests that loneliness cost employers in the US more than $154 billion per year in lost productivity, due to absenteeism.
That means, loneliness is an ailment, which affects not just individuals, but the organisation as a whole. Therefore, it is high time companies started worrying about it.
Unlike what is commonly believed, loneliness is not just restricted to solo players, even people who work in teams can be impacted by this bug.
It only implies that people are not engaged with their teams or the organisation. Besides, the higher the number of employees feeling lonely at work, the higher are the chances of the organisation failing to meets its common goal. Loneliness has a direct impact on an individual’s ability to focus and perform to the best of his potential.
“Disengagement begins when employees are given roles they are not aligned with, or are not recognised for their passionate and hard work. And disengagement further results in loneliness”
Vijay Sinha, EVP-HR – manufacturing, JSW Steel
Reasons for loneliness
There are multiple reasons why an employee can be lonely at the workplace. Disengagement, poor rewards and recognition, or even a bad manager can push an employee towards feeling lonely and left out.
As Vijay Sinha, EVP-HR – manufacturing, JSW Steel, shares with HRKatha, “Disengagement begins when employees are given roles they are not aligned with, or are not recognised for their passionate and hard work. And disengagement further results in loneliness.”
Mahesh Gera, Group CHRO, Rustomjee, feels that “workplaces are supposed to be vibrant, and full of opportunities to bond with teammates, managers and peer groups. The objective is that everyone should be able to work towards creating a healthy environment for the growth of the company”.
“Cultural misalignment and lack of job role fitment are the common reasons for loneliness. However, there could be more reasons such as a ‘coterie’ working style practised by the managers and leaders of the organization,” points out Gera.
“A great organisation or a great leader will always be mindful of the syndrome and will ensure timely amendments to avoid all the pitfalls,” Gera adds.
Rahul Matta, CHRO, Quick Heal, shares, “The most significant reason for loneliness is the lack of trust on the part of the managers, employers and peers,” says Matta.
“Cultural misalignment and lack of job role fitment are the common reasons for loneliness. However, there could be more reasons such as a ‘coterie’ working style practised by the managers and leaders of the organisation”
Mahesh Gera, Group CHRO, Rustomjee
He also points out how “in the post-COVID era, the workplace has been largely replaced by digital screens, making it increasingly difficult for employees to connect with their peers. This is causing more employees to feel lonely at work these days. The Great Resignation has only made it worse, with most employees losing their friends from the workplace”.
Dealing with the malady
Is there a way for organisations to deal with this growing menace effectively?
Biren Anshu, CHRO, Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz, believes that managers should be able to identify the problem before it escalates to the HR department.
“The managers are the ones who know their team members best, and hence, should be the ‘go to’ people,” Anshu explains
“Only if the problem arises because of the manager’s lack of response should the HR intervene, identify the situation and work on it,” cautions Anshu.
Matta suggests that HR teams should work on building managerial capabilities. At the same time, they should also create an engaging and collaborative work culture.
“In the post-COVID era, the workplace has been largely replaced by digital screens, making it increasingly difficult for employees to connect with their peers. This is causing more employees to feel lonely at work these days”
Rahul Matta, CHRO, Quick Heal
“This will not just keep the employees engaged, but make them feel welcomed, be at home and trust their workplace, which will eventually help them perform to their potential best,” says Matta. Ultimately, “focus on their performance may also help employees forget their personal challenges, while they are at work”.
Matta favours the use of data and analytics. “With the advancement in HR analytics, identification of elements leading to workplace loneliness and reduction of engagement levels has become a lot easier”.
Sinha believes HR has to play a bigger role in this. ““HR plays the role of a catalyst and needs to craft processes and well institutionalised programmes to avoid loneliness at the workplace.
“Right people in the right job is one of the most important mantras and HR needs to facilitate that,” advises Sinha.
The role of the HR is crucial. Be it a skip-level meeting, or a training programme for the managers on team management, the HR has to be instrumental in making these happen.
“Only if the problem arises because of the manager’s lack of response should the HR intervene, identify the situation and work on it”
Biren Anshu, CHRO, Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz
“Employees seek fair treatment, and the HR’s role is to constantly evaluate unfair practices and behaviours in the company, to develop trust and harness the commitment of people,” explains Sinha.
Anshu also suggests that organisations have a buddy system for the new employees so that they do not feel unwanted. They should be made to feel at ease and comfortable enough to be able to approach the teammates for simple tasks or help in charting projects.
Gera concludes, “Employees end up spending more time with their teams than with their own families. Perhaps, that is why ‘Work-Life Balance’ has been recoined as ‘Work-Life Engagement’.”