How loneliness can kill productivity in your business?

Why loneliness lowers your performance at work? One of our most fundamental, primal wants is to feel like we belong, yet the digital era has made it simpler than ever for employees to hide behind their computer screens and use email as their major mode of contact. Is this, however, making us feel more alone and disconnected than ever before?


Professor Sigal Barsade of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business believes that working from home five days a week can be just as lonely as working in an office surrounded by coworkers. “Loneliness is a self-constructed evaluation based on an individual’s own psychological and social needs,” she explains.


Why loneliness lowers your performance at work? According to Barsade, co-author of the paper Workplace Loneliness and Job Performance (a survey of 672 employees and 114 supervisors, released in December 2018), loneliness is primarily determined by one’s attitude or perspective. Furthermore, an employee does not require a big number of coworkers with whom to connect in order to avoid feeling lonely.


Why does loneliness have an influence on productivity, innovation, and performance?

One of the primary difficulties, however, is that loneliness has been discovered to be “self-reinforcing,” meaning that it may become the norm, causing people to become sensitive, suspicious, and socially awkward.


This sense of isolation and detachment, crucially, has a direct impact on performance, engagement, and wellbeing.


According to Barsade, “the greater the sense of loneliness, the lower the performance and the more likely the employee is to take time off sick.” “The findings also suggest that coworkers are aware of loneliness and perceive it as a barrier to team effectiveness.”


According to Angela O’Connor, CEO of HR consultant The HR Lounge, loneliness is a big concern for many employees. “Detachment has an effect on performance as well as confidence, resulting in lower engagement and performance. It can also result in more turnover as employees seek more meaningful work.”


Why loneliness lowers your performance at work? Understanding and recognising workplace loneliness

She notes that while identifying workplace loneliness can be a difficult task for many companies, it is one of the first steps toward eliminating it. “Having just one good-quality relationship with one colleague or boss can help to keep loneliness at bay, but they require the proper working environment and corporate culture to do so.


Loneliness is an organisational problem, not an individual one.

Finally, HR professionals must recognise that loneliness is not a personal issue. “They should think of it as an organisational problem that has to be handled, both for the good of the employees and for the sake of the company,” Barsade adds.


But how can companies detect loneliness in their workplace? “Managers may observe that an employee’s productivity is down, or that some members of staff are reserved and are not participating in both social and work-related conversations and activities,” says David Price, CEO of wellness provider Health Assured.


The influence of shifting work habits on loneliness

While the Barsade study found that office employees are just as vulnerable to loneliness as those who work from home, the shift in our working patterns, with more than two million individuals in the UK now working remotely, is undoubtedly a big contributor.


The ability to work from home, according to Brian Hall, Chief Operating Officer of health and wellness provider BHSF, is one of the most highly appreciated employee perks and may be the deciding factor in whether or not an employee stays with an organisation.


Why loneliness lowers your performance at work? Working at a distance has unique problems.

So, how can businesses assist individuals who work from home? First and foremost, according to Barsade, they must acknowledge that loneliness exists and is a serious problem for individuals who work outside the workplace. “HR professionals must recognise that they must pay attention to this and that it is not only the responsibility of the employee,” she says.


She goes on to say that organisational culture is a big role, and that companies need to figure out how to create a more inclusive, emotional, and cognitive culture that supports and encourages what she calls “companionate love” – loving, caring interactions between coworkers.


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