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Loneliness: the workplace phenomenon often ignored

RMIT University 2 mins read

Loneliness hurts businesses, as it causes employee absenteeism and reduced productivity. An RMIT workplace management expert shares some strategies on how individuals and organisations can overcome loneliness in the workplace. 

Dr Shea Fan, Senior Lecturer in Management 

Topics: workplace loneliness, social isolation, employee relations, management  

“While loneliness is well-discussed as a social phenomenon, it is rarely seen as a work phenomenon. Yet, it one many employees are experiencing.   

“Work roles, work environments and work transitions can cause loneliness and these work conditions may cause social isolation, distort interpersonal relationships, and prevent employees from developing or maintaining social connections. 

“CEOs, entrepreneurs, remote and gig workers, and expatriates are particularly susceptible to loneliness. 

“The role of a CEO and their associated power makes authentic workplace relationships rare, so they are socially and psychologically distanced from most people in their organisation. 

“Recent research found that around 50% of entrepreneurs sometimes or always experience loneliness, often due to the lack of time for social interaction. 

“Remote work, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, created social isolation because opportunities for informal chats and face-to-face bonding are significantly reduced.  

“Similarly, while gig workers may enjoy flexible work schedules, they may have few opportunities to develop deep relationships at work.  

“Expatriates are separated from their existing social networks and find it difficult to develop new connections because of cultural differences, language barriers or insufficient social resources. 

“Given the pervasiveness of workplace loneliness and the challenges it poses, it is surprising that there is little public awareness of how to battle loneliness in an organisational context. 

“Employees can combat loneliness by understanding what kind of social goals they desire and addressing the gaps. For example, you may be happy with a few strong relationships, or you may prefer broad but weak social connections.  

“As individuals, we cultivate our social connections so it is important we understand strengths and weaknesses in our personality, social skills and social motivation that may inhibit or help grow workplace relationships. 

“As an employee you have a responsibility to be proactive and take charge of overcoming your loneliness by developing or expanding your repertoire of personal resources and taking advantage of opportunities offered by organisations.  

“Organisations can also contribute to creating a culture that encourages positive social interactions through auditing work practices and identifying and addressing social isolation generators. 

“Through this, organisations can remove social barriers for employees by cultivating an inclusive work environment, particularly for minority groups. 

“Organisations can offer a variety of social opportunities within or across organisational units to encourage employee socialisation.  

“These include mentoring programs, support programs, social events, coffee breaks, holiday celebrations and team-building activities. 

“These investments in alleviating workplace loneliness will result in employees having a stronger sense of belonging to organisations and being more productive.”     

Dr Shea Fan’s research looks at how global mobility affects employees and employee interactions, and how organisations and managers can help employees achieve their highest potential in contemporary work environments. 


Contact details:

Interviews: Dr Shea Fan, 0411 551 817 or shea.fan@rmit.edu.au  

 

General media enquiries: RMIT External Affairs and Media, 0439 704 077 or news@rmit.edu.au

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