Tips to conquer loneliness in the workplace

Tips to conquer loneliness in the workplace
9 October 2019    Donnay Torr    0 comments
Starting a new (or first!) job is kind of like the night before going to a new school. Anxious thoughts fill your head: will I fit in? Be able to do the job? Will they like me? Will I manage to sit still for hours on end? Do I even know what I’m doing? So, yeah, there’s usually a lot going on in our heads before we take on the challenge of officially living the 9 to 5 life. But what happens if you find yourself really isolated at work? We have six tips that can help you feel less lonely at work.

Living in a lonely world

Loneliness is a growing problem for young Australians. The recent Young Australian Loneliness Survey[1] found that over one in three 18 to 25-year-old Victorians reported feeling problematic levels of loneliness.

Humans have an innate need to connect, and if we don’t find connection, we feel lonely. Having to deal with finishing school, moving out of home, getting further education AND thinking about work can seriously mess with your head.

Not only does it make you feel bad, loneliness can impact your physical health. Feeling constantly lonely can make you more vulnerable to getting ill, lower your self-esteem and influence your sleep. The Young Australian Loneliness survey also found that higher levels of loneliness increases the risk of developing depression by 18% and social anxiety by 12%. Johann Hari, the author of the book Lost Connections, described the impact of loneliness as causing as much stress as being punched by a stranger.

Loneliness also impacts the way that we work. A recent survey[2], found that 37% of workers feel lonely at work; 38% of lonely workers make more mistakes and 40% feel less productive. So what can you do to combat the workplace isolation you feel? These six practical tips can help you feel less lonely at work.

Speak up and reach out

This might seem scary, especially if you’re an introvert, and can even be kind of awkward if the office culture is a quiet one – but when you start working at a new job, let your voice be heard. We don’t mean suddenly becoming the loudest guy in the room or the life of the office party: rather, try some simple ways of communicating to identify possible new friends and allies.
  • Make an effort to learn your new team’s names.
  • Greet your new colleagues every morning, and ask them how they are. Listen to their answers, and perhaps share a story of your own.
  • Remember details, such as who has a cute cat, or who enjoys watching movies.
  • Say goodbye when you leave.
  • When you’re in a meeting, try to make a contribution, even small.
  • And when you see someone sitting alone at lunch, or seeming sad, reach out and ask if you can join them.

It takes a bit of bravery, but the more we talk to people, the more we learn about them – and the more likely we are to discover what we might have in common.

Use your strengths as tools

Finding and embracing your personal strengths can help you forge strong, meaningful relationships in the workplace. Think about what makes you, “you”. Perhaps you have a great sense of humour, or you’re a good communicator who makes people feel comfortable. You might be very determined and disciplined, enjoy being physically active, or know interesting stuff about the ocean. Or maybe you’re really great at Excel!
Now think how each of your strengths can help you to build connections at work. Does someone share your sense of humour? Is there a colleague who needs help with a challenge you find simple? Can you add some creativity to your workplace? Who else loves watching sports as much as you do? What you’re good at or what you love could lead you to a satisfying new friendship.

Embrace life offline

No jokes: switch off your phone, turn away from your computer screen, and talk to a human in real life. Research on loneliness has found that being constantly connected or “on” can actually cause us to become more isolated. At work, we look at screens for a great deal of our time, which means we’re not focusing on the colleagues who share our space with us. Physical interaction is really important to connect with others, so make an effort to develop face-to-face relationships with a colleague or two. Instead of sending an email, get up, walk to their desk and talk to a human. Spend time with colleagues during your lunch hour, have a quick coffee break together, or just take five minutes to talk about random stuff in the morning.

Work's not going anywhere.

Join in

When you first start working, chances are you’re going to be exhausted and a bit bewildered by all the new responsibilities and possibilities that having a job brings. Take time out when needed to process. But every so often, try to take part in office activities that can help you forge new friendships. Join your team for lunch, training days, sponsored sports days or company team building days. You can also volunteer to help out with organising in-office events such as celebrations for special days. Find something that interests you, join in, and let your teammates know that you’re participating. Perhaps one of them will join you!

Get to know the office pro

If you’re really struggling to find your feet, it can help to connect with a person that’s been working for the company for a while. You could ask them for insight and advice, find out more about how your office culture works, and get them to introduce you to other colleagues that you might not have met otherwise. They could became a “safe space” where you can share your concerns or problems when you’re struggling.


If at first you don’t succeed…

Hang in there! If your team members don’t respond to your efforts to connect immediately, don’t give up. It’s easy to get discouraged and take things too personally, but it’s important to persist. And remember: your colleagues are only human, and are all probably struggling with some degree of loneliness, too. You don’t have to make friends with every single colleague, either – just finding one person that is willing to spend some time with you already makes a huge difference.

[1] VicHealth and Swinburne University of Technology
[2] Conducted by HR think tank Reventure

Struggling with negative thoughts? Our five practical tips to deal with negative thinking are based on practical experience, and can help you deal. Read the blog and download the infographic here.

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