When researchers look at the human condition of loneliness, we would at first glance assume the studies focus on the elderly, or perhaps single young people living in big cities.
There’s a relatively new field of loneliness research I discovered in this article in last Sunday’s New York Times – the workplace.
Go into your office today and take a look. Is there a person down the hall from you who doesn’t have much to say to anyone? Do they take lunches alone? Are they absent from after-work shenanigans?
That no-talker could even be a member of the management team. One might wonder if they are shy, or perhaps even aloof.
What if that manager had a hand in a series of recent layoffs?
What if that quiet cubicle worker lost a confidant in one of those layoffs?
I remember with great pain the 10 rounds of layoffs I endured at my former company. Those days cast a pall over the building, no surprise there; but it was the cavalier attitude by management, the “It is what it is” mentality that took the wind out of the sails of the survivors. The corner office folks didn’t want to talk to the team, post-layoff, to tell them “Yes, this blows. It’s okay to be sad.”
I remember the Market Manager would close his door on layoff days, sealing himself from the parade of the freshly unemployed who, on their way out to the street, had to walk by his office. It was an unimaginable act of cowardice.
Some of us lost dear friends on those days. A part of our support systems were taken away. The residue of this not being dealt with properly is a risk-averse team, unwilling to step forward and introduce bold ideas, preferring to get along and go along, quietly.
Sometimes the lonely employee is simply awkward, a bit shy and tentative. They might be geniuses, but are uncomfortable initiating interaction with colleagues. Managers need to keep an eye out for the signs, and nurture interaction without demanding it ( read: jolly office parties).
The article in the Times explains the stark difference between loneliness and solitude. Some people crave solitude, relishing the chance to create by themselves, not neutered by the tendencies of managers to get their people to “collaborate” on everything.
Feeling alone, surrounded by many people, is an entirely different state of mind.