I came across an article that piqued my interest. It talked about the loneliness of today’s workers in an office environment. Not those who work on the road, remotely, or from home, but those who congregate each day at the office to perform their duties.
Why would these people be so lonely when surrounded by all their counterparts? Maybe, because they really have very little in common with the people with whom they work. They are thrust together for a myriad of reasons, all having to do with their personal needs, preferences, and those of the company.
It’s not as though these people come together by choice. It’s more of chance and necessity. That can make for a lonely existence, although they’re surrounded by a crowd. That may only make things worse.
Companies try, with all good intentions, to make work life a little more enjoyable, or at least tolerable, for their employees. Things like employee birthday get-togethers, office parties, and picnics. All which put more pressure on the employee to attend. If not, they’re conspicuous by their absence.
Working on-site doesn’t guarantee a built-in circle of friends. It doesn’t automatically provide a fulfilling social environment. That’s not to say that the people working together are bad people. It suggests only that they may not have much in common which would make for sustainable relationships.
Sometimes they share common interests, and that’s a plus, but in most cases, it’s the exception. There are obvious age differences, some are married, others are not, those with kids and those without, and the differences continue. This is further compounded by the amount of time the employee needs to spend at the office or in commuting.
So, one could argue that a remote, or partially remote, work lifestyle may, in fact, be the antidote for this loneliness. When employees are not stuck in a building with the same people every day, working long hours and feeling pressured to attend the latest “cake party” down the hall, they’ll have more time to pursue personal relationships they actually prefer.
But how can companies that require an in-office staff because of the product and/or services they provide, make things better for their people? (This is from former US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murphy)
- Give employees a chance to open up. Dr. Murthy said in the office of the surgeon general, each employee was given five minutes at every weekly staff meeting to share a personal story, whether it was about their family, an experience they had before work or their dreams for the future. A practice like this helps humanize the staff and lets employees know their organization’s leaders care about more than just the quality of their work.
- Lead by example. Some bosses may be used to portraying themselves as tough-as-nails individuals who are incapable of showing emotion, but this sends the message that employees should make it their goal never to crack either. We all know executives endure personal struggles just like everyone else, and when they show some vulnerability in their work relationships, employees can feel encouraged to let their guards down when needed, too.
- Remove the stigma around depression and anxiety. When’s the last time you openly took a “mental health day?” I took one about a month ago, but only because I’m comfortable enough with my boss, to be honest about those types of things. At a past job, I probably would have faked a cold. People are unfortunately conditioned to believe it’s only acceptable to use a sick day when they have physical ailments, not mental health-related symptoms, and that isn’t cool.
Respect and understand that some people may choose to keep their work and personal life separate. That’s not a bad thing, just a personal preference. There is no right or wrong choice. It’s strictly personal and they have their reasons. They need the time to pursue their preferred interests.
Providing them with a better work environment to do so makes for a much happier, and better performing, employee. That helps to make for a better life for everyone.