With remote work and the new reality of the workplace since the pandemic, employee loneliness has grown dramatically. Studies show that loneliness brings health problems, reduced productivity, turnover, and burnout. A BetterUp report demonstrates how the pandemic fractured workplace relationships — with 43% of respondents saying they don’t feel a connection to their coworkers. Some 38% said they don’t trust their coworkers, and 22% said they don’t have a single friend at work.
Relationships are important to the well-being of employees. Connection leads to greater productivity. Without it, employees feel isolated and at times paranoid.
Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, chief innovation officer at BetterUp states that when an employee is lonely, they are more likely dissatisfied with jobs and have reduced commitment to the organization. This disconnect is especially important with Millennials and Generation Z workers who want purpose with their life and work.
Does demanding employees come back live to work make a difference? Maybe. Yet as other studies have shown, hotdesking versus hoteling does make a difference in the perception at work. With hotdesking, employees have to scramble to find their daily location, and who knows who they are sitting with. With hoteling, employee groups could coordinate cohesive places to work, which facilitates communication and relationships. Interestingly enough, it feels like first grade when everyone is assigned a seat. But, knowing where to sit on a daily basis actually reduces anxiety of the employee.
Think of it a different way. Being first in a movie theater can be daunting. Too many options can be tiring.
Kellerman believes that employers need to rethink the internal spaces. The space should be set up to create opportunities for employees to engage and socialize with each other throughout their days both in-person and virtually. In response to any barriers impeding socialization, some employers looking to entice workers back to offices have also revamped their spaces to look and feel more comfortable and inviting, with some repurposing spaces to resemble airport lounges with free amenities and concierge services. It is a reversal of the past, especially for IT companies that offered these various perks but reduced them for cost control.
To have a meaningful relationship with work requires a workplace where employees feel safe to discuss their issues. It’s more than simply a superficial conversation. The culture needs to allow for meaningful discussions about work and personal life, since so much of a person’s time is at work. The employer needs to make social connection a strategic priority for employees at all levels.
HR is good at discussing employee issues. Workshops may be helpful, but it requires leaders to recognize high productivity burns employees out, including HR, and that there is a need for community and the ability to relate and tell. Therefore, in the short-term, leaders may grumble about the “lack” of productivity, but the long-term residual could be greater productivity with lesser turnover and an overall positive employee experience, which studies are showing as becoming more common today as employers are recognizing this phenomenon of loneliness.
Source: Worklife 5/10/23, Harvard Business Review 6/9/21