Loneliness is not seasonal but often highlighted at this ‘Merry’ time of year.
In many parts of the world Christmas time is a set of days when there is a bombardment of festivity. A period where expectations are raised. A month with pressure to be joyful. A chapter when bereavement and loss are reawakened. And, in 2021 a time with pandemic uncertainty continuing to impact how we spend our time.
It can be hard to explain, some researchers define loneliness as perceived social isolation, a feeling of being unconnected from or not connected at all to the social contacts we desire. From a neuroscience perspective, we are wired to survive through human connection. Survival has been achieved through social group connections – we are stronger together!
This matters as it has been shown in Studies that a prolonged sense of isolation (triggering stress hormones and chemicals) will impact health and wellbeing, maybe more seriously than drinking or smoking.
Some stats on loneliness
This chart (sourced from The Jo Cox foundation) shows stats from 2017, naturally not including the impact of Covid. These stats plus Covid restrictions, make it even more likely that someone in your team or organisation have, are or will experience periods of loneliness; and Christmas time is known to exacerbate this.
According to the data below, if your workplace includes: 17–25-year-olds, anyone with a disability, a parent or carer there is a high probability that quite a few of them may feel lonely. I think I can safely assume that other personal situations (e.g. age, gender, race, addiction) that have not been mentioned can also contribute to these feelings.
What’s the impact of loneliness for business?
Monetise the following and the cost to business becomes clear. Isolation or a sense of it causes withdrawal from a group or organisation. This tactic is a protection strategy from further rejection. A sense of disconnection leads to reduced commitment, innovation and collaboration. Through feelings of not being connected to or being cared about by others, the work suffers in both its quality and volume. The energy and distress that comes with ongoing loneliness also leads to absence and errors.
A personal loneliness experience
I have certainly had painful moments of loneliness. One of my moments came from the break-up of a business and partnership. For years I carried a lot of guilt and shame about the business loss and betrayal from the partnership aspect. I ‘felt’ I had no one to turn to, I did not want to share the failure and potential judgement with friends or colleagues. Family was impacted and seemed too close, so I ‘believed’. For many years, despite battling on and getting through, I still ‘felt’ different, stupid for letting this happen and embarrassed. My confidence in my judgement of situations and people was hit badly. It took the work I do now (a career change of decades) to help me make proper use of that experience and what I could learn from it.
How leaders can identify loneliness and act to reduce it
Building psychological safety is a big part, that generates safe spaces for sharing. How can this be achieved? It takes time, you need to:
- Get to know your team as individuals, discuss (yes, talk!) about each other’s experience, successes, challenges, past failures. Listen to and share family situations and the pressures or joys that may be present there. Acknowledge birthdays or special events. Doing this regularly through one to ones helps make vulnerability acceptable and builds trust.
- Get the team to know the team, similar to above, build a habit of sharing thoughts and feelings in a respectful way. Teams that know each other can help spot when somethings different and raise it appropriately, rather than it going unnoticed.
Questions to aid identifying loneliness and help find a way forward.
In a perfect world…
- How could the working environment be improved for you? This question can highlight how office layout, home working, working hours or geography for example, is impacting a person.
- What ways of working in this team would keep or increase your motivation? For example, the reward mechanisms of a team can make a difference (commission structures, can shift healthy competition to underhand behaviour), how you communicate, protocols and processes, vision and goal clarity.
- What would change to really help you thrive in this role/team? This question opens the door to how people behave, the culture, the norms, what this person values.
- What can I do to be even more helpful to you? A question that recognises a leader’s role in shaping a team and treating each person as an individual that is cared about.
Are you lonely? Have you tried these?
If you are lonely, this link gives nine ideas to experiment with, especially as, if you do nothing differently, nothing or little is going to change.
What about Christmas time?
And lets include other festive occasions, if working from home remains or someone is away a lot?
I asked some valued connections and based on having done the ground work of building trust a few ideas came through:
- Enquire into when people get lonely and if that occurs, how you can help?
- Let people know you are there and can be contacted even outside of ‘office hours’.
- Have some organisations (these may help) to hand that people can reach out to, they may prefer that.
- Invite people to meet up socially (in person or virtually) and if they say ‘no’, gently double check that is really what they meant (it can be hard to say ‘yes’ sometimes). It shows you are making a genuine offer.
How I can help
Why not enquire about My ‘Head Strong’ Coaching Programme? It provides a leadership experience enhanced with brain insights? Clients say how much it helps them deal with their challenges as leaders.