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The Costs of Loneliness at Work

From the Financial Times, June 8, 2017

A recent article in Financial Times, authored by Emma Jacobs, discusses about the problem of employees' feeling lonely at the workplace and the costs it could bring about.

The article starts with a story of a young analyst, Steve, who works in a bank in London that hires thousands of people. Steve works hard, but was not prepared for the loneliness he suffers from at work. He complained that he, as a new joiner, barely received any support or mentorship, and confessed that "being on a team with experienced professionals was 'intimidating' and even a snide remark from a manager would make him feel small". Over time, his self-esteem diminished and he started to isolate himself. As a result, his performance was badly affected.

It was then discussed in the article that managers should not treat Steve's loneliness as his private problem but rather one that affects the business. Findings from a number of papers were cited to support this argument. Here are some highlights:

  • A 2011 study from California State University and the Wharton School confirms that an employee’s work loneliness could trigger his or her emotional withdrawal from work.

  • A forthcoming paper, co-authored by John Cacioppo, the director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, suggests that the internet, while could be used to enhance existing relationships and forge social connections, could also be a way of escaping “the social world” and thus increasing loneliness.

  • A paper published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes in 2015 found that employees with low levels of autonomy and power felt lonely.

  • A report co-authored by Professor Adam Waytz of Kellogg School of Management found that high-ranking employees are vulnerable to loneliness.

Besides, it was also suggested in the article that virtual working could make the loneliness problem even worse, as working remotely usually means missing many social activities with fellow colleagues, which are essential for the social and emotional well-being of employees.

For details, click here to read the article.

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