Loneliness in the workplace

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Last week, I watched a documentary about loneliness. In producing the documentary they interviewed numerous people of all ages and from all walks of life.

I was struck by the number of those in employment or working for themselves who said they were lonely. How can you spend all day busy and in many cases, surrounded by people, yet consider yourself lonely? But clearly they were.

Is four hours in the evening on your own enough to make you feel lonely? Is one weekend on their own too much for some? For some it appeared they were unable to ever feel contented if their down time, their quiet time, had no one else in it.

I actually love and cherish time on my own. I never feel I get enough of it. I’m old enough though to acknowledge that that may not always be the case. But perhaps some people need to learn to enjoy and be content in their own company.

I’m actually wondering if there something in the air, as two weeks ago I wrote about the negative impact homeworking has on so many and this week I’m writing about loneliness at work. 2016 for many does seem to be a year that is going to be about reflection, change and re-connection.

I see loneliness all the time. Both in and outside of work. I think there’s an epidemic of it. Partly prompted of course by the ‘utopia’ of work/life balance achieved through home working that so many demanded of their employers, but who now find is little more than an isolating prison.

But returning to loneliness at work. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Well it’s often about the absence of connection, not feeling you are in the right job, not feeling comfortable or fulfilled with your day to day work, a sense that something is missing or not quite right, and not feeling able to, or wanting to, value those you work with. It’s about not being in a place that gives you good energy, good vibes and a delight in being alive.

So if this is the case, let’s take a moment to think about your workplace. What does it feel like? What is in the ‘air’? Is it energised, in balance, positive and inclusive? Or does it feel dry, empty, disconnected and unapproachable?

How can we work with people 7+ hours a day but not know them, not socialise with them, not be able to turn to them when we’re feeling down? How shallow are the relationships we form?

Perhaps it’s partly due to the judgmental world we live in, we’re so busy covering our backs that we have no time left to develop relationships and seek meaning in our work. Or perhaps we are so busy trying to achieve so much that what we achieve is only ever surface level stuff. Nothing sustainable or with depth. Or perhaps there has been so much focus on ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘what are my rights’ that along the way we stopped caring about others and in turn they stopped caring about us.

But perhaps if we focussed on meaning at work, could that be one of the keys to unlocking togetherness and banishing work place loneliness? If engagement initiatives started at the top and unashamedly focussed on the vision and purpose of both individuals and the organisation, might that help banish this epidemic of loneliness?

I find it fascinating that those who terrorise the world often give up comfortable lives in pursuit of togetherness, meaning and purpose. We might not like what they do, but I think we ought to really question why they are so driven to seek meaning and purpose in their lives and why they, without a second glance, often give up so much to do just that.

So might a return to the patriarchal work environment create the bonds and structure we seek? Probably not. I think we’ve moved on from that with its single minded focus on top down purpose. But I do think that focussing away from targets, goals and deliverables and instead onto organisational and individual meaning and purpose in life, we might go a long way to regain a sense of fulfilment, satisfaction and happiness, with workplace loneliness a thing of the past.

Your thoughts, ideas and opinions? All welcomed of course…

And in pursuit of meaning and purpose in life, Jaluch is delighted to be working in 2016 with Dr Kim Jobst of ‘Meanings Matter’ to bring exploratory and development programmes to both individuals (open courses) and organisations (closed courses) . Why not contact me to explore what there might be in this for you or your organisation.

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