A challenge to alleviate the ‘loneliness’ factor in the workplace.

IMG_8768a_ppKathleenCROPPED and flippedYou’re heading out with your usual group of peers, excited to be going shopping together or trying a new restaurant.  You are out the door of the office and have already forgotten about the work you left behind.  But what about colleagues you left behind?  Is there a co-worker who really doesn’t have close work friends at work and doesn’t have this opportunity?  Is the department manager sitting alone in her office wishing she could join you?

Have a look around your workplace – do you see an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging?   Where people make a concerted effort to be compassionate toward others?  Where employees (at all levels) have someone at work who cares about them as a person?   Where leaders and staff alike have fun together?  We hope that you do.  At the Centre for Character Leadership, we describe a collegial workplace as one where everyone contributes to a ‘healthy’ environment – where people feel safe, appreciated, and engaged while working toward common goals.

A Nov. 23rd article in the Globe and Mail, Life of solitude: A loneliness crisis is looming, spurred several discussions over the past week about loneliness in the workplace, and about how to ensure that no one feels lonely at work.  Of the people we spoke to in our client organizations, it was actually the managers and leaders who seem to be the loneliest.  One manager remarked:  “I always knew it was lonely at the top, but didn’t realize that loneliness sets in as soon as you become a manager. While I am open and transparent about the business, I am always aware that anything specific to an employee must be guarded confidentially. There are many questions, assumptions I would like to answer or clarify, but can’t.  It is a challenging, and often lonely, role.”  And to make matters even more lonely, managers often find that as they move ‘up’ in an organization there are fewer and fewer invitations from their team members to join in a fun activity.

Certainly there are many different work cultures, and some are more inclusive and collegial than others.  If your workplace could use a healthy dose of collegiality, then we challenge every one of you to see what a difference you can make to the ‘loneliness’ factor in your office.

The most difficult part is that effecting cultural change takes time and a consistent effort.  And to complicate things even more, the efforts made need to be authentic, and not forced.  While this is a great time of year to begin to think about making your workplace more collegial, the changes that you make should be ones that can be carried forward, even when there are no seasonal celebrations taking place.  Being collegial means being more mindful of others and thinking about ways you could make even a small difference for someone else. Here are some ideas:

  1. Acknowledge co-workers’ lives outside work – show an interest by asking how their kids are making out at school or with hockey/soccer etc.
  2. Use conversation starters such as ‘Hey, did you see the game last night?’
  3. Give out simple, personal, compliments – for example, make a point of telling a co-worker that you like the colour of their new scarf, but make sure you are honest with your compliments!
  4. Invite someone (even a manager or senior leader) to join the usual ‘crew’ for an after-work activity. Stop thinking that you should invite ‘Jane’ to join you one day.  Just do it now.
  5. Share home-made food/treats – this always is an appreciated gesture and will encourage others to do the same, possibly something from their own culture or tradition.
  6. Take a greater interest in others, especially those who are quiet and not forthcoming – ask a co-worker about their weekend in Niagara Falls or a special event that you know they attended.
  7. Make time to listen – if you know that a colleague has suffered a personal loss, pull up your chair beside theirs and ask how they are doing.

One thing that leaders /managers can do is provide the opportunity for employees to gather informally to make some positive connections.  Even a 10 minute ‘Coffee Talk’ one morning a month, would allow people to share personal stories and get to know each others’ interests.  And research has shown that these types of informal, yet high quality, interactions will foster empathy because there will be much more fertile ground for compassion to happen.   You may be interested to read more about the positive effects of compassion in the workplace.  In Why Compassion in Business Makes Sense, the author explains that “when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line”.

If you have ideas for what can leaders can do differently to support a more collegial work environment, we’d love to hear from you.  Contact Kathleen Redmond and tell her about your ideas.