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Our employees look to us for guidance. Use these numbers to engage more meaningfully.

Loneliness might sound like a mild problem compared with threats to your health or livelihood. But according to U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy, loneliness is actually a national emergency. And our disconnection at work is a huge part of the problem.

“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis,” warned Murthy last year.

Loneliness is worse for you (and your company) than you think

Being lonely, studies show, can actually damage your health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And experts insist that the growing number of Americans who report having no or very few friends is a huge contributor to our worsening mental health. Loneliness, it turns out, is a serious threat to your health.

It’s lousy for your business too.

CEOs, surveys show, have particularly high levels of loneliness. And things aren’t much better for frontline employees. Surveys show that post-pandemic, the number of people claiming to have “work friends” has dropped precipitously. Whether that’s because of remote work or general exhaustion, it’s bad for both employees’ output and their mood. Research has found that work friends make us more productiveresilient, engaged, and less stressed. Plus, it’s just a drag to work in isolation all the time — as many discovered during the pandemic.

Can 3 simple numbers help you combat loneliness?

Hopefully, all this science has convinced you that loneliness is worth battling. How do you do that? You reach out and make more human connections, of course. There are plenty of apps and advice to help you. But perhaps the easiest suggestion comes from an excerpt of the new book Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All Infeatured recently on Big Think.

Murthy’s comments are directed at the general public. The book is aimed at business leaders. But both make much the same case — loneliness is awful for us.

“Wolves hunt more successfully in packs, penguins share warmth in huddles, fish swim in schools for protection, and birds migrate in flocks to conserve energy. Together animals accomplish more. The same is true for humans,” insist authors Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen.

If bosses want to foster feelings of connection and belonging at work, they continue, three numbers can get you started:

  • 40: the number of seconds it takes for loneliness to lessen during a two-person interaction.

  • 1: the number of work friends it takes to feel less lonely.

  • 5: the number of minutes it takes in a team meeting to share something personal.

Armed with these numbers, leaders — and employees — can make simple changes that should immediately help reduce loneliness. They can pause in the break room or even over a Zoom call for less than a minute of chat. Everyone has 40 seconds to spare, and it makes a real difference.

Science also suggests employees don’t need a gaggle of buddies to feel more warmth and connection at work. They can focus on building a single strong bond.

Finally, opening meetings with five minutes of non-work conversation might seem like a waste of time to the exceptionally hard charging. But even this small glimpse into the personal lives and personalities of your team members will make work feel less impersonal and lessen loneliness.

“New models of working … have created flexibility but often reduce the opportunities for in-person interaction and relationships. And even working at an office doesn’t guarantee meaningful connections: People sit in an office full of coworkers, even in open-plan workspaces, but everyone is staring at a computer or attending task-oriented meetings where opportunities to connect on a human level are scarce,” the surgeon general has warned.

Remembering to pay attention to your 40-1-5 is a simple way to fight back against this lonely reality of the modern workplace.


FEB 14, 2024
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