The holidays are typically associated with giving back, strengthening bonds and connecting with the community in a meaningful way. They can also be one of the loneliest times in the year.
As more workplaces are embracing the virtual model in the age of the new normal, loneliness can creep in; isolation from colleagues and pared-down social interactions deepen those feelings.
Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade and California State University’s Hakan Ozcelik found that, “resoundingly, loneliness made people less effective at work [and the] lonelier employees were, the lower the performance ratings they received from their supervisor.”
The 2018 study also found that loneliness in the workplace context can be contagious.
This raises immediate questions about how companies and most importantly, leaders can help alleviate feelings of workplace loneliness. Leaders are tasked with providing safe, supportive environments where their employees can thrive. And the best thing they can do to connect with their teams and learn how they’re really doing is to ask.
Engaging in frequent and ongoing conversations with employees is one tactic managers can employ to stay ahead of the impact loneliness can have on employees and the greater teams.
We believe that today’s leadership is about being human; it is habitual; it is empathetic.
An extension of leadership is to encourage employees to build meaningful connections – and a part of that could well be to focus on caring for others.
Give the gift of time
Longitudinal studies have shown that creating a sense of purpose is critical to well-being. This includes the sense of purpose we derive from our professional roles.
There has been much research into how being kind and giving can make our lives feel more meaningful. A 2015 article in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that participants who engaged in altruistic behaviours, such as volunteering, reported a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives because it reminded them that their actions do matter.
Like those studies, I personally believe despite the pandemic rewriting the rules of productivity and purpose, one can feel a sense of purpose when we look outward and choose to help others.
In the professional context, this holds true as well: workplace volunteer programs that take steps to build meaningful connections with colleagues and the community can give true sense of purpose and may provide a tangible solution to keep workplace loneliness at bay.
No better time than the holidays
Many people are eager to celebrate the holidays but don’t have the opportunity to do so. In Australia, the cost of living has increased in many places and many families and individuals are struggling to keep up. For teams in the same city, why not contribute collectively to a food drive, donate gently used toys to women’s shelters, or contact organisations helping refugees or new migrants. And while face to face visits to nursing homes may not be possible right now, regular phone calls are often welcomed by seniors living alone or separated from their loved ones.
A business of any size or industry can implement a program that allows time off to volunteer and still respects the company budget.
During these holidays, we can choose to give the gift of time and attention to those who need it. Hopefully not only will participants spread the holiday cheer, but many might even build strong personal connections across the organisation and within the community – and remind themselves that their actions do matter.