It makes sense that many of us expect to make meaningful friendships with our colleagues at work and for good reason. After all, we spend a great deal of time on the job with people who likely share similar interests or outlooks. Unfortunately, new research from the University of Pittsburgh shows that three out of five American employees feel disconnected or lonely on the job. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly contributed to this trend, as many companies have shifted to working remotely full-time or in hybrid models with a mix of office and remote hours.
Working in such an environment can exacerbate feelings of loneliness among those who are already feeling isolated or alone.
Studies have found that loneliness in the workplace is linked to emotional exhaustion, lower job performance, and decreased commitment to one’s role.
If you’re feeling lonely at work, it is still possible to form connections with your coworkers. Research suggests that engaging in small talk about everyday topics like weekend plans or sharing stories about yourself can help improve social bonds within the workplace.
Moreover, various activities like virtual coffee breaks or team lunches can help create positive relationships and foster more enjoyable work environments.
Feeling connected and supported at work is an important part of our mental health, so don’t hesitate to reach out and make connections with your colleagues.
With a little effort, you can begin to feel less lonely and more valued in your job.
Begin By Engaging In Minor Interactions With Your Colleagues.
Most modern workplaces don’t offer the same level of social interaction as a college dorm, but even small social interactions can help to reduce feelings of loneliness.
According to Dr. Lim, there isn’t a single ‘best’ way to connect with others, so it is important to take the initiative and make small efforts such as smiling or nodding at coworkers, saying hello in the elevator, or exchanging pleasantries when leaving or entering the building.
Rachel Morrison, PhD, an associate professor of management at Auckland University of Technology further explains that work environments are often filled with people who have similar career goals and aspirations, so it can be beneficial to find commonalities and create meaningful connections.
This could include discussing a laptop wallpaper featuring someone’s pet dog, asking what leftovers they’re heating up for lunch, or talking about any shared interests.
For those working remotely, joining a Zoom meeting a few minutes early to chat about what their weekend plans are and keeping your camera turned on during conversations are also effective ways of fostering relationships with colleagues.
Next, Seek Chances To Gradually Reveal More About Yourself.
When reflecting on your past work relationships, it’s likely that some of the strongest connections you’ve formed have been as a result of shared experiences.
This could range from something as simple as working alongside each other during company restructures, to being stuck in an airport for hours due to a delayed flight.
As Dr. Morrison explains, these situations often create an intense bonding environment that encourages people to open up more than they normally would.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to express yourself authentically when you’re feeling isolated in a workplace; this is because loneliness can lead to fear of rejection and unconscious shutting down.
If you’re feeling anxious about sharing your true thoughts and feelings with co-workers, start small by talking about something like the latest episode of a show you both watch or venting about tricky settings on your video chat.
Intentionally Cultivate Connections With Others, Particularly When Working Remotely.
A 2020 study on remote work revealed that workplace loneliness, due to a decrease in face-to-face interactions, can cause employees to feel unsupported in their roles.
This lack of support could be through not being given the chance to ask follow-up questions after meetings or not having the opportunity to confide in their boss about personal matters.
Without the serendipitous conversations that happen in physical workplaces, such as those around the water cooler, Dr. Morrison believes it is important to become more intentional with communication.
Suggestions include saying good morning on Slack channels, messaging colleagues after a meeting to express appreciation for their presentation, and introducing interesting reads into group chats or socializing channels.
For hybrid workplaces, Dr. Lim suggests creating routines that align with co-workers as another way to build connections. Taking proactive steps like asking someone out for coffee or arranging a time to meet in person may help employees gain confidence within these relationships.
Adjust Your Outlook On The Nature Of Companionship Within Your Work Environment.
Finding meaningful work friendships can be tricky, especially if you’re new to a workplace. It’s important to consider what your ideal work friendships would look like and think about how feasible they could be.
Context is key for building these connections; if you’re hoping to make a partner at a law firm, the way that you approach socializing with colleagues will differ significantly from working in a bar.
While it’s great to have a close work friend, don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your colleagues—it might backfire and leave you feeling more isolated than ever.
A better approach is to focus on finding someone with whom you relate—even if it’s just in a professional capacity.
Taking small steps and sharing more about yourself can help create connections that lead to lasting relationships built on trust and understanding.
With the right effort, these relationships can bring some much-needed joy and companionship into the workplace.