Dealing with loneliness at work
What is loneliness?
Loneliness in the corporate world is the feeling of isolation, friendlessness, abandonment, or rejection by work colleagues, other office staff, or management. It is a human emotional complex and very unique to the individual sufferer.
It is a complex and unpleasant emotional response to a feeling of isolation or lack of companionship. It connotes a lack of connection to other people in the work environment or the community.
Loneliness is also a psychological mechanism to alert a person of their isolation and motivate them to seek active connection. Social, mental, and emotional factors contribute to a person feeling isolated from society or the environment in which they operate. According to psychologists, loneliness is not necessarily being alone but the perception of being alone and isolated even among a crowd or colleagues. It is more prevalent in marriages, families, and workplaces.
Causes of loneliness
People experience loneliness for many reasons. Many life experiences or occurrences such as the lack of friendship or the physical absence of meaningful people around a person may trigger loneliness.
Psychological problems such as depression in people could also be a trigger.
Loneliness may also be because of a break up of a relationship or a loss of a dependable person resulting in the affected person withdrawing contact with society. An unstable relationship in which the feeling of love cannot be given or received may also trigger loneliness in people. A dysfunction in communication in the home or workplace also triggers loneliness and depression.
It can also be a result of factors such as low self-esteem. People who lack confidence in themselves very often believe they are not worthy of other people’s attention.
Schools of thought on loneliness There are two schools of thought on loneliness: the existentialist and epistemic schools of thought.
The existentialist school views loneliness as part of our existence as humans. According to this school of thought, humans come into being, traverse life, and pass on to death all alone. One needs to accept it and so be able to cope with life to be able to draw satisfaction from life.
The epistemic school of thought however believes loneliness is a fundamental part of human existence because of the paradox of man’s desire to have meaning in life, which conflicts with the isolation and nothingness of space or the universe.
Again, others argue that humanbeings are actively engagedwithone another andspace as they communicate andloneliness isthe feeling of being left out of this process byothers such as one’s superiors, work colleagues, orevenoneself.
Symptoms of loneliness
Researchers in a 1984 study found that, most respondents polled had about three confidants. However, in follow-up research conducted in 2004, they found that this has reduced to zero confidants for most of the earlier respondents. Experts believe it is not the number of confidants one has, that is critical to one’s feeling of belongingness but the quality thereof. Having one or two close confidants is enough to make you feel less lonely and involved in the surroundings, be it the workplace, community, or family Effects of loneliness on corporate Human Resources
There are two main effects of loneliness on the human capital of any organization: psychological, and physical.
Loneliness leads to depression and in some cases alcoholism in many people who are exposed to it. People suffering from psychological loneliness may suffer sleeplessness, which may affect their restoration process. They may become hypersensitive and emotionally unstable and react disproportionately to issues.
Others may appear uncooperative, or may become disinterested in everything. For new employees, psychological loneliness can result in impaired learning and memory retention. With experienced staff, loneliness at the workplace may result in poor judgment and bad decisions that may have far-reaching implications for the organization. Other psychological effects may include depression and suicidal tendencies.
When loneliness becomes chronic, it may result in increased risks of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Loneliness may also result in high blood pressure, obesity, digestive problems, and weight gain. Others are alcoholism, drug abuse, and altered brain functions leading to poor or weird decision- making. Lonely people with Alzheimer’s disease may suffer progressive deterioration. It can also lead to stress and induce reduced immunity to diseases. A 2006 study by the Centre for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago found that loneliness could increase blood pressure in people over the age of fifty by about 30 points. A related study at the University of Chicago by researcher John Cacioppo, found that loneliness impairs cognition and willpower, alters DNA transcription in immune cells, and eventually leads to high blood pressure. People who feel left out of situations, events, and other gatherings develop a sense of exclusion from society and may experience temperature decreases.
Role of management
Loneliness at the workplace can result in low productivity even with more experienced employees. It can result in deadlines not being met, targets falling short, failing to close sales, and in the process, losing clients to the competition. Every human resource outfit has to create an enabling environment in the workplace to make every employee feel a part and contribute their knowledge according to their station in the organization.
The following are some of the measures Human Resource Managers can put in place to reduce the feeling of loneliness at the workplace:
- Create more openand shared offices to encourage employees to interact easily. A common breakroom or coffee room can be created for employees to relax during their break time and to socialize with other colleagues. HR must help the organization do its part in breaking down artificial barriers. It is critical for those planning office processes to as muchas possible take time to consider what the potential barriers are and develop the office seating arrangement with those in mind. As much as practicable, office-seating arrangements must be done in a manner that would encourage interaction among employees.
- Management must actively support corporate behavioural changesthat wouldresult inall-inclusiveness toenable employees actively engage witheachother.
- Encourage outdoor activities at least once in a quarter where everyemployee can take part in at least one activity. Some corporate entities in Accra have taken this seriously and frequently organize workouts and other social activities from time to time to get their employees in shape. However, this is not so common in other regions outside of Accra.
- As much as possible, management must establish a mix of repetitive or routine and unscheduled tasks that enables employees to engage actively.
- Establish counseling centers where employees are encouraged t otalk to counselors under strict confidentially.
- Superiors and officers must be groomed to be firmw ith employees without being abusive. The attitude of some senior officers towards their subordinates may lead to some weak staff recoiling into their shells, thus inducing unwanted, isolated, or lonely feelings.