Today more than ever, there are so many ways to connect and stay engaged in the workplace, from team collaboration programs to chatbots, which can provide more direct access to personalized service.
How is it then that today’s employees report feeling lonelier and less secure in their jobs than ever — at all levels of the organization? This question has important implications for business leaders across organizations because of the pervasive negative impacts that loneliness can have on employee performance, health, and loyalty. And yet, the answer to employee loneliness may lie within one of its sources — technology.
While technology may be one of the primary drivers for loneliness in the workplace, it can also be a source of meaningful connectivity in employees’ personal and social lives, giving leaders important clues for how we can address technology-driven loneliness through technology.
While much of the conversation on loneliness has focused on employees feeling isolated by technology and remote work, there is growing evidence to suggest that a stronger driver of loneliness is actually the burnout caused by a hyper-connected world.
At its root, loneliness can be caused by a fundamental disconnect between the amount of social interaction that people desire and that which they have. Organizations should consider how to use technology to bridge that gap by empowering employees to control their digital interactions, ensuring that they are able to get what they need.
Here are some lessons learned from social media and technology use, that leaders can implement in their own organizations or teams.
Consider offering employees the flexibility to form communities organically based on their shared interests — whether that be professional interests or personal passions. Identifying people with like interests is significantly easier in online environments. It can reduce barriers to form meaningful connections and allow employees to explore a range of existing communities or create their own. This notion of self-directed, organic communities is critical; in this type of environment, employees are more likely to feel that they can be their authentic selves at work, leading to higher engagement and performance.
Leverage technology to remove geography and time zones as a barrier to connection between employees. Positive stories from social media (they exist!) often focus on how friends are better able to maintain and strengthen relationship across the globe. Technology can allow colleagues to better maintain relationships over time and space, creating a stronger attachment and loyalty to their co-workers and allowing them to have the social interactions they desire. As a side benefit, these long-lasting ties also enhance the informal development and career growth of individuals who are better able to share knowledge across teams.
Use technology to enrich communications with more vibrant media, such as audio and video. A welcome change from dry emails or terse IM’s, audio and video chat can enhance the quality of social interactions, enabling employees to form deeper personal relationships with one another, conferring meaning and depth to their relationships, and reducing loneliness.
Let technology act as an indirect enabler for a wide range of experiences that organizations want to deliver to its employees to help address loneliness. Consider recognition and appreciation. Technology can deliver recognition seamlessly, immediately, and (if appropriate) publicly. And if it’s easier to recognize and show appreciation for one another, it’s probably more likely to happen. Organizations can more effectively and consistently signal value and connection to employees, and in turn, they will feel “seen” by and connected to their employers, potentially reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Our ability to turn back the tide on technology advancements is limited (and for most, undesirable). But where technology may create some negative implications for employees, leaders have opportunities to step in and foster greater belonging in a digital world, creating a workforce that is connected, not just technologically, but meaningfully.
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