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Do Your Team Members Feel Isolated and Lonely?

Wednesday August 5, 2020

People crave more connection with their teammates at work. Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that more than 40% of people surveyed are feeling physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace. This group spanned generations, genders, and ethnicities. The Guardian reports that 42% of people have no close friend at work.

One of The Guardian readers anonymously confessed to feeling alone, saying: “There’s no one at the place where I spend much of my waking life to whom I can turn when I want to confide my fears, to moan about the upper echelons, to worry away about what’s happening at home.” This statement resonated with other readers a lot. From their 800+ responses, it’s clear that people have to develop their own strategies to cope with loneliness and isolation – from intentional check-ins with their colleagues to arranging badminton groups, curry nights, and similar activities.

Should companies and team leaders be more proactive in encouraging connection? What is the value of connection for the business?

HBR quantified the value of workplace belonging, both with correlational and experimental findings. The study confirms that companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits if workers feel like they belong:

  • High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.
  • Employees with higher workplace belonging also showed a 167% increase in their employer promoter score (their willingness to recommend their company to others). They also received double the raises, and 18 times more promotions.

To create this sense of community and connection, leaders should learn how to engage with teammates in a way that feels comfortable. McKinsey recommends cultivating more informal interactions in the team and across teams. Informal interactions provide a starting point for collegial relationships in which people collaborate on areas of shared interest, thereby bridging organizational silos and strengthening social networks.

What are the implications for teams?

Virtual experiences help connect teammates and create a forum for informal interactions. As a result, distributed team members feel less isolated and lonely.