Home' HR Monthly : June 2018 Contents "We shouldn't need
bonding or team leadership
days to actually connect with
our colleagues and make
DR MICHELLE LIM, SENIOR LECTURER CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY,
At best, loneliness is an unpleasant feeling
someone experiences now and then.
At worst, persistent loneliness can pose
health risks as harmful as obesity or smoking 15
cigarettes a day. It can even lead to early death.
This was the confronting picture recently
presented in Melbourne by loneliness expert
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology
and neuroscience at Brigham Young University
Speaking at a Swinburne University event,
Holt-Lunstad said the findings were the result
of two detailed meta-analyses. One involved 70
studies that represented more than 3.4 million
individuals (primarily from North America but
also from Europe, Asia and Australia), while the
other drew from 148 studies representing more
than 300,000 people.
Lonely at the top... and bottom
The fact is having strong social bonds in
the workplace makes employees engaged
and produce work that is elevated above the
ordinary, say Gallup researchers. They are also
less likely to fall ill or get injured. Connections
also indirectly affect self-esteem and make
people more resilient during times of stress.
The oft-heard phrase "it's lonely at the top"
is actally a truism. Half of CEOs in the US
experience loneliness, according to a Snapshot
Survey, with new CEOs particularly vulnerable,
caught in a vicious cycle of feeling that their
isolation negatively affects their performance.
But opening up about those emotions isn't
always an option, particularly if you are meant
to be in charge. A 2011 study of 672 workers
from California State University and Wharton
School of Business showed that admitting to
being lonely only made things worse because
the knowledge of another person's unhappiness
"provided stronger and more negative cues for
the co-workers about the overall quality of their
relationship with the employee". Which makes
them even lonelier.
You may well be thinking, hasn't this always
been the case? Won't there always be some
employees who find it harder to mix than
others? Think again, as new models of working
are likely to exacerbate workplace loneliness in
Writing in Harvard Business Review recently,
Vivek H Murthy, who served as surgeon
general of the US, said: "In the workplace,
telecommuting and some on-demand 'gig
economy' contracting arrangements have
created flexibility, but often reduced the
opportunities for in-person interaction and
relationships." And even office or factory work
doesn't guarantee meaningful connections, he
says. People can be surrounded by co-workers,
even in open-plan spaces, but everyone is staring
at a computer or attending to tasks where
opportunities to connect are scarce.
The problem has begun to enter the radar of
governments. In the UK, for example, sports
minister Tracey Crouch is taking on a new role
in addition to her existing job, that of minister
for loneliness. It's a move that comes amid
figures showing more than one in 10 Britons are
lonely. Holt-Lunstad is her scientific adviser.
How can organisations help?
With so many of us spending long hours
at work, "there needs to be a culture and
allowance for people to connect as human
beings. We shouldn't need bonding or team
leadership days to actually connect with our
colleagues and make meaningful
relationships," says Dr Michelle Lim, a
loneliness researcher and senior lecturer in
clinical psychology at Swinburne University.
Lim, who is also on the scientific advisory »
In the digital era, when touch technology
has replaced many of our personal and
workplace interactions, is a lack of human
touch a factor in loneliness?
New research from University College
London has found that gentle touch from
another individual eases the e ects of social
exclusion and helps social bonding. "As our
social world is becoming increasingly visual
and digital, it is easy to forget the power of
touch in human relations," says lead author
Mariana von Mohr.
Actively encouraging touch between
colleagues is undoubtedly precarious,
and it's impossible to outline universally
accepted instances for physical contact in
the workplace. Yet avoiding all types of touch
between colleagues would be disheartening,
says Val Holden, Relationships Australia
Queensland's regional manager and
"Touch is a huge thing for us as humans,"
she says. "If and when we get to a place
where we lose the ability to give someone a
hug if they are crying, then that is a very sad
place to be.
It's OK to ask someone who seems upset
whether they would like a hug, she says.
"Or even putting your hand on someone's
arm if they are crying. It says a lot to the
person who is upset."
had no one to
confide in when
June 2018 HRM magazine 33
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