Loneliness on the cube farm

CubeFarm1-resized-600Social isolation and dysfunction are toxic to our wellbeing and to our organizations. Loneliness can be found at home alone on the sofa night after night, but it can also be found in a sea of people. An article in the recent issue of the APA Monitor (Friends Wanted) outlines just how very important social relationships are to our wellbeing. Meaningful adult friendships don’t just make us feel good emotionally, they impact our physical health as well. Feeling socially isolated is associated with increased mortality, depressive symptoms, and increased blood pressure. As we saw in this post about stress, providing and receiving social support makes people more resilient against the effects of stress, but feeling socially isolated actually contributes to the stress response.

Not surprisingly, relationships matter at work, too – a lot. In Gallup Organization’s director, Tom Rath’s book (Vital Friends), he reports that people who say they have no real friends at work have only a one in 12 chance of feeling engaged in their job, while people who have a “best friend” at work are seven times more likely to feel engaged. Further, Gallup also reports they are:

  • 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days
  • 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development
  • 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important
  • 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work
  • 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day
  • 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days.

At the other end of the spectrum, workplace incivility has numerous costs, including decreased productivity and lower job commitment. When people forge meaningful connections over shared values and goals, engagement, performance, and productivity are enhanced (see this post); but when social dysfunction is allowed to proliferate, they are sabotaged (see this post).

What is an organization to do? Since business is transacted primarily through interactions among humans, and social skills “grease the wheels” of those interactions, ensuring your employees have the basic tools to execute their relationships well is important. But even more critical than providing specific skill training is providing pathways for people to forge and maintain healthy relationships. Whether you call it networking and focus on the bottom-line impacts or call it relationship building and focus on the emotional outcomes, the result is the same – healthy relationships, which are crucial for both human happiness and for business success. Organizations that find ways to help people build these connections are strengthening the very matrix in which their business operates.

“In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” –Aristotle