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Why Employers Must Address the Workplace Loneliness Crisis

published2 months ago
5 min read

We’ve heard a lot about how the transition to remote working increased people’s feelings of loneliness and isolation at work. Those feelings have been magnified for new hires on remote teams, who’ve often had to assimilate into their new role without ever meeting their colleagues or setting foot in an office.

But how does this widespread state of disconnection manifest itself in the workplace? To what extent is it affecting employees, including the loyalty they feel toward their employer and to each other? And what should companies do to reverse this worrying trend and create a culture where workers can enjoy more meaningful relationships with their colleagues?

To answer these questions, my company, Workplace Intelligence, partnered with Airspeed to survey 1,600 employees and C-Suite leaders at remote or hybrid organizations. The survey confirmed that at least 1 out of 3 workers feels “a great deal” or “somewhat” disconnected, alienated, isolated, or lonely at work.

The survey also revealed that many workers won’t be willing to tolerate this situation for much longer. In fact, 2 out of 3 executives predict their employees will quit for a job where they’re feel more connected to their colleagues. An alarming 3 out of 4 executives believe their staff would leave even if it meant making major sacrifices like taking a pay cut or accepting a part-time role with a lower salary and no benefits.

Despite all the advantages of remote working, it’s clear that some people are experiencing significant disadvantages as well. Fortunately, the study examined how businesses can right this ship and chart a new path forward for their remote teams. Read on for more insights from our research, and download the study report to review the complete findings.

Most people know very little about their co-workers, and a lack of socialization could be to blame

Earlier this month I celebrated my birthday, and my staff reached out with kind notes and well wishes. On other occasions we’ve exchanged messages about people’s vacation or weekend plans, families, hobbies, and more. These are all small interactions and gestures — certainly nothing that would make or break my relationships with them — but meaningful nonetheless.

While this team dynamic is the norm at my company, my research with Airspeed reveals that this isn’t the case in most workplaces. In fact, we discovered that a remarkably low number of employees say their colleagues know what their hobbies and interests are (15%) or know the names of their immediate family members (18%). Only 26% say their teammates would reach out if they were sick for more than a few days, just 28% believe their co-workers would celebrate if they got a raise or promotion, and only 31% report that their colleagues wish them a happy birthday.

Perhaps most concerningly, just 39% of workers believe their co-workers would care or notice if they quit their job. The likely culprit? Low levels of socialization, at least according to 72% of employees who say they aren’t able to socialize enough when they’re remote.

Our research uncovered a few reasons why people are struggling to connect with each other at work. Nearly 6 out of 10 remote employees say they’re not satisfied with the technologies their company offers to help them connect. Others report that their manager doesn’t encourage socialization (44%), it isn’t part of their normal workday and workflow (36%), and they don’t have time to socialize (33%).

The outcomes of infrequent socialization go well beyond feelings of loneliness

No matter the reason behind this, it’s apparent that remote team members aren’t making the connections they so badly want — and the outcomes of this are much more far-reaching than you might think.

If you’re a long-time follower of my research and writing, then you’ll know why feeling connected at work is so critical. Numerous studies (including my own) have reported that workers who regularly socialize and have fun with their colleagues are more creative, productive, and committed. It’s no surprise, then, that a whopping 96% of the executives we surveyed agree that if their employees felt more connected to each other it would boost their motivation and productivity.

Perhaps more importantly, we discovered that improving workplace relationships could significantly move the needle on employers’ retention efforts. And this is no small feat, especially amidst the ongoing Great Resignation. Below are a few of our key findings around this:

  • 2 out of 3 executives believe their employees are seriously thinking about quitting for a job where they’d feel more connected to their teammates.
  • 75% of the C-Suite believe their staff would leave even if it meant taking a pay cut or accepting a part-time role with a lower salary and no benefits.
  • The #1 reason remote workers say they’d quit is because they don’t feel connected to the company culture.

What these findings point to is a pressing need for organizations to put much more emphasis and investment into creating a better workplace culture — one where people feel a true sense of loyalty to their employer and camaraderie with each other. Let’s take a look at where companies should start.

The path forward requires a strong tech stack and a more supportive culture

Although many C-Suite leaders predict that their disconnected team members will seek out employment elsewhere, our research uncovered that there is a path forward. Some companies will need to prioritize a cultural shift; that is, building in more time for socialization and ensuring that managers understand the value in this.

However, employees also identified ways in which technology could better support their interactions at work. While the vast majority of workers say they like using technology to socialize, 68% report that the legacy technologies they use to connect are falling short and 60% aren’t using these technologies very often. The most common complaints? There are too many different technologies, the quality is poor, and these tools don’t do everything they’d like them to.

Even the C-Suite agrees that the #1 way to boost connectedness is by offering the right technologies and tools. However, right now just 40% offer a comprehensive technology platform for their staff. But this number is likely to improve — among companies who don’t yet have a “one stop” solution in place, 83% say they plan to consolidate the technologies their company uses, with 79% noting that they’ll do this in 2 years or less.

It's time to chart a new course for the remote workforce

Although it’s been well over 2 years since companies transitioned their employees to remote or hybrid work arrangements, there are still some pressing issues that need to be addressed — including a lack of connectedness. In fact, our survey found that the C-Suite’s #1 challenge during this shift has been ensuring that employees feel connected.

But as quit rates continue to creep upwards in 2022, it’s clear that leaders can’t put off this issue for much longer. Forward-thinking companies recognize just how important workplace socialization is, and many are relying on technology to reimagine their remote worker experience. Those who are embracing these tools are already well on their way to reaping the benefits of a more engaged, happy, and productive workforce.

Thanks for reading — be sure to download the study report to learn more, and let me know your thoughts on the research in the comments on LinkedIn.