Handling Employee Loneliness

Oceanic Pharmachem: Handling Employee Loneliness

Oceanic Pharmachem Private Limited (OPPL) believes that the painful cycle of employee loneliness hurts company performance and has to be handled in a timely & thoughtful manner.

Loneliness is defined as “a complex set of feelings that occurs when intimate and social needs are not adequately met,” and is different from depression, being alone, or feelings of solitude. It has more to do with a person’s quality of social relationships rather than their quantity.

Loneliness has been long studied in psychological literature when it comes to family, romantic, or social lives. But there is very little research on how the experience of being lonely plays out in the workplace. As awareness about loneliness increases, it’s important to understand exactly how people experience loneliness in their jobs and how does it affects their work, shapes their relationships with colleagues and what can be done to help a lonely employee.

Research proves that a person’s feeling of loneliness does relate to lower job performance. In addition, lonely employees were perceived by their co-workers to be less approachable and less committed to the organization. But, importantly, loneliness is not simply the lonely employee’s problem; it influences colleagues as well as performance outcomes. Organizations need to take tackling the problem of loneliness seriously for both their employees’ sake as well as the sake of the organization itself.

In general, lonely employees tend to isolate themselves, feeling less connected to their organization as a whole. Ironically, the behaviour of lonely people has the effect of increasing their own loneliness. In other words, even though the person may desperately want to connect with others, they see their environment as threatening and become hyper-vigilant and overly sensitive to the responses of others. When this occurs, they become less approachable to colleagues, thus perpetuating a difficult cycle where loneliness leads to greater social vigilance. As a result, lonelier people are more likely to pull away.

Lonelier employees also feel less committed to their organization overall, suggesting that when negative feelings predominate, lonely employees decide that certain relationships are not worth the effort. This decision then fans out to ever-widening circles of potential connections within the organization. When social ties begin to fray among colleagues, a willingness to communicate and collaborate based on feelings of trust disintegrates. And when work depends on these relationships, entire teams and even departments can suffer. In this way, loneliness is not just about individual people; it influences the group and organization as a whole.

If such employees do exist in the organization, there are certain solutions which can help alleviate their feelings of loneliness. If organizations can provide timely and effective support for lonelier employees, they can help break the negative cycle of workplace loneliness. The most effective interventions are those targeting maladaptive social cognitions, such as lonelier people’s negatively biased perceptions of how they are perceived or how trustworthy others are. Lonelier people have
also been shown to benefit significantly from intervention programs that focus on clarifying participants’ needs in friendship, analyzing their current social networks, setting friendship goals, and developing strategies to achieve these goals. In addition, because loneliness inhibits the motivation and skills of lonelier people to reach out, any intervention requires considerable effort and follow-up. Rather than bringing people together, being surrounded by more lonely colleagues is also associated with less emotional attachment to the organization, also known as affective commitment.

A company’s culture also plays a role in expressing the values and norms about the emotions that are allowed to be expressed at work. A stronger versus weaker emotional culture of companionate love (featuring expressions of affection, caring, compassion and tenderness among employees) weakens the negative relationship between workplace loneliness and affective commitment to the organization. A stronger versus weaker emotional culture of anger (anger, irritation, frustration, annoyance), however, strengthens the negative relationship between workplace loneliness and commitment to the organization and colleagues.

Managers should be wise to recognize that loneliness does, in fact, occur among their employees. This is not only a distressing feeling for the person experiencing it; loneliness has organizational repercussions that are slowly being understood.