Have you ever sat in a busy office and felt totally alone?
Workplace loneliness is not only a thing, a ‘return to the office’ is not going to solve it.
Merely being with other people is not the solution.
The reasons for people feeling lonely at work are that they:
- feel they have little in common with their colleagues (44%).
- don’t have good work friends (25%)
- their colleagues are a lot younger than them (22%)
- work in an office on their own (20%)
- have to eat lunch alone (18%)
- work with older colleagues (11%)
This is about a lack of relationships with work colleagues. Stuffing everyone into one building everyday doesn’t solve that, other than by accident.
When I started out on my career, work was very social. Before email, most communication with work colleagues would be face-to-face or by telephone. If you wanted to share something with somebody, you’d get up and walk to their desk or office. Everyone went to the canteen for lunch, teams often ate together. There was even a tea trolley and everyone would stop and have a chat when that came around.
And there were clubs, teams, social events, encouraged and funded by the organisation. There was a lot of informal socialising outside of work too and I have life-long friendships from that time.
People sit in front of screens, processing workflow. They message colleagues rather than speak to them. They eat their lunch at their desk. Their workload is high and closely monitored. Their team members are distributed around the building, the organisation, the world. They have very little social interaction with the people around them.
I know someone who experienced exactly this, they commuted into a huge office building to sit at a desk in a big open plan office, surrounded by people yet utterly alone. They spoke to no-one, other than the usual pleasantries. It was very bad for their mental health, even though they had lots of friend and family around them at home. Imagine how it is for people who live by themselves?
Over half (53.6%) of Brits admit to suffering from loneliness in the workplace; with a further four in ten (44.4%) attributing this to having nothing in common with their colleagues. (Research by CV Associates Nov 2019)
It’s not about the office.
It’s not about the culture.
It’s all about the people, and the relationships you form with them.
Stop asking “Are our people productive?” and start asking “Are our people connected? Do they feel part of a community? Do they feel cared for? Do they feel loved.”
If you can answer yes to those questions, the productivity will take care of itself.
With or without an office.