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Loneliness and Exhaustion in the Workplace

An article I was reading recently claims that compared with the 1990s, people today are twice as likely to report that they are always exhausted. Nearly half say they are often or always exhausted because of work. This is a shockingly high statistic, though given the volume of discussion about it, it probably won’t surprise you.

Something that did surprise me was the argument that there is a significant correlation between feeling lonely and work exhaustion: the more people are exhausted, the lonelier they feel.

I was interested in this because it can certainly be lonely running a business. I sometimes complain to my husband that because I’m so busy with work I rarely get the chance to see friends during the week and then I’m often too tired to see them at the weekend. But it seems that we’re not talking social isolation here. The loneliness discussed in the research arises from the emotional exhaustion of workplace burnout. It isn’t just a problem for overworked business owners and senior managers either.

Whatever its cause, loneliness has serious consequences for sufferers. Research suggests that while obesity reduces lifespan by 20%, alcohol consumption by 30%, and smoking by 50%, loneliness can reduce it by a huge 70%.

Positive feelings of social connection can strengthen the immune system, lengthen life, and lower rates of anxiety and depression.

One of the most important factors in work happiness is the creation of positive social relationships with colleagues. Workplace engagement is associated with positive social relations that involve feeling valued, supported, respected, and secure. Feeling socially connected gives a sense of greater well-being, which translates into higher productivity and better performance. This is so in part because feeling socially connected leads to higher self-esteem, which means employees are more trusting, empathic, and cooperative. In turn this leads others to trust and cooperate with them.

What can employers do to tackle fatigue and loneliness?

  • Promote a workplace culture of inclusion and empathy. Workplaces characterised by caring, supportive, respectful, honest, and forgiving relationships lead to higher organisational performance overall. Encourage community and value warm, friendly, and understanding relationships between people. Empathy, in particular, may be a protective factor against burnout and work exhaustion.
  • Encourage employees to build developmental networks. These networks are small groups of colleagues you routinely turn to for task advice or emotional support. In most companies, the creation of these networks is left up to chance. You can help foster them by assigning on-boarding partners and helping employees access and connect with potential mentors, coaches, and peers. Removing barriers to connect, by freeing space in calendars and offering contact information with relevant background information (including hobbies and interests, not just work),can go a long way.
  • Celebrate collective successes. Celebrating collective successes helps create a sense of belonging and attachment in organisations.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2017 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.

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