People with a keen sense of belonging live healthier, happier lives. Close-knit communities are extraordinarily resilient, dynamic, and innovative – particularly in a crisis; various crises in American history illustrate this point. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the attacks on 9/11, and even Hurricane Katrina are examples of major tragedies which eventually helped bring people together. In the aftermath of these events, communities became closer and bonds became stronger.
During Covid, the opposite happened, because the threat was from the outside, from other people who could make you sick. As a result, the workplace radically shifted–from working most every day in the physical workplace together, to working from home or at a coffee shop or from some other space. Alone.
That shift, coupled with advancements in video technology and the uptick in screen time on social media and entertainment, has made Americans lonelier than ever. Statistics on loneliness, depression, and other health-related effects of solitude have gone up dramatically. Americans now spend ten hours more per week alone, and ten hours less with friends and family. This is causing all kinds of negative effects on individuals, but for organizations it has resulted in a stiff challenge to bring people back to the workplace. Because employees’ default used to be, “I go to work every day”, whereas now their default is “I go to my computer at home [or wherever I’m working] every day”.
Companies, then, have to understand that belonging now needs to feel different. You need to give people a reason to come back to the workplace, in the form of something that they can’t do in their home or wherever they’re working. What might that look like? It could be a Lunch and Learn, a training from a vendor, or just a social or team-building event like a yoga club, or meditation club. The litmus test is that it’s something where you can actually bond and feel belonging because you’re a human being among other human beings–not because you have a title at a company or because your belonging stems from an artificial social contract.
Companies like Opportunity Lab, and those of our clients, are really making the workplace a more purposeful place to go: a place where activities allow people to work together, to collaborate, and to celebrate the creativity that comes out of that challenge. It’s important to give people the balance that yes they can work from home, yes they can work from a coworking space, yes they can work when they’re traveling, and yet there’s a reason people do need to work together in a physical space. The need for organizations to be more creative and more innovative in this way is critical.
The results are palpable for companies that are actually shifting the way they think about the relationship between themselves, their employees, and the way their employees work. Results include increased attendance, decreased absenteeism, increased employee engagement, improved business results and, yes, a little less loneliness.
- In Plain English with Derek Thompson (podcast): Why America is Suffering A ‘Friendship Recession’
- NYTimes: How Loneliness is Damaging our Health
- The Grey Area with Sean Illing (podcast): Vivek Murthy on America’s Loneliness Epidemic