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Finding friends at the office: tips on combatting workplace loneliness

Observers say on-the-job social connections are good for both employee and employer
FILE - People work at the Yelp office in San Francisco on Feb. 14, 2023. Remote work has intensified loneliness in the workplace. Experts say friendships and a sense of belonging are vital to employeesB次元官网网址 happiness. And also to companiesB次元官网网址 success. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Twice each month, executives at the dating app company Hinge gather for a team meeting. But rather than dive into discussions about metrics or revenue, they begin by simply talking.

For the first 30 minutes of the two-hour meeting, these coworkers reveal hopes and anxieties B次元官网网址 what they worry about, what theyB次元官网网址檙e grateful for, what theyB次元官网网址檙e feeling. Even at a company focused on connecting people, forging real relationships in the workplace takes effort, Hinge CEO Justin McLeod told an audience at the South by Southwest conference earlier this year. He was co-presenting at the event with Ann Shoket, whose initiative to combat workplace loneliness is called B次元官网网址10 Minutes to Togetherness.B次元官网网址

As America navigates what Surgeon General Vivek Murthy described last year as employers and employees across the country are trying to address what for many people is a lack of real friendships at work.

Remote meetings of `little heads in squaresB次元官网网址

The problem of loneliness has been bubbling for decades; Robert D. Putnam documented it in his groundbreaking book B次元官网网址淏owling AloneB次元官网网址 nearly a quarter-century ago. Remote work has only intensified the problem, for extroverts and introverts alike, says leadership expert Michael Bungay Stanier, author of B次元官网网址淗ow to Work with (Almost) Anyone.B次元官网网址

B次元官网网址淧eople have this desire to be seen and be heard,B次元官网网址 Bungay Stanier says, but on video calls, the group gets right to the business at hand rather than having the natural, informal interactions of a real room. It reduces people to B次元官网网址渓ittle heads in squares.B次元官网网址

ItB次元官网网址檚 not easy to talk about this lack of friendship at work B次元官网网址渂ecause it feels like a shameful confession,B次元官网网址 Bungay Stanier says. But his clients are beginning to bring up the subject.

Awkward as it may be, these are conversations worth having, according to psychology professor Laurie Santos, creator of Yale UniversityB次元官网网址檚 well-known class B次元官网网址淭he Science of Well Being.B次元官网网址

At-work friendships are good for employers, too

In her own presentation at South by Southwest earlier this year, Santos cited research that showed workplace friendships and a sense of belonging are vital to employeesB次元官网网址 happiness B次元官网网址- and companiesB次元官网网址 success.

We assume that friendships at work are B次元官网网址渁 nice-to-have, not a need-to-have,B次元官网网址 she said.

But B次元官网网址渕aybe one of the reasons weB次元官网网址檙e all so disengaged at work, maybe one of the reasons B次元官网网址榪uiet quittingB次元官网网址 seems so appealing, is that weB次元官网网址檙e actively not investing in the thing that might matter the most for our happiness at work, which is our connection with other people,B次元官网网址 Santos said.

New spaces, new programs and `casual collisionsB次元官网网址

Some large companies began paying more attention to employee health long before the pandemic, often focusing on the physical: adding a gym to the office building or serving healthier food in the cafeteria.

Today, more employers B次元官网网址渁re not just checking boxes, but actually looking at ways to really enhance peopleB次元官网网址檚 health and well-being,B次元官网网址 says Suzanne Heidelberger, who has led teams managing real-estate problems for global companies including American Express and Fidelity Investments. She focuses on bringing a hospitality mindset to corporate spaces.

For example, employers might:

B次元官网网址 Rethink physical spaces with relationships in mind, she says. Some companies are adding staircases, both to help people get more steps and to encourage the B次元官网网址渃asual collisionsB次元官网网址 that can lead to good relationships. Some are trying to transform green rooftops B次元官网网址 created to be environmentally friendly B次元官网网址 into gathering spaces.

B次元官网网址 Create groups and events to help employees find friends who share their interests. B次元官网网址淚t could even be something goofy, like an ice cream social for dog lovers, where weB次元官网网址檙e going to teach you how to make healthy ice cream for your dog,B次元官网网址 Heidelberger says.

B次元官网网址 Offer online gatherings as well. During the pandemic, American Express offered online cooking classes that helped employees feel connected and introduced them to coworkers.

What employees can do

Employees are also seeking answers on their own, notes executive coach Daniel Boscaljon, founder of the Healthy Relationship Academy, which helps organizations build better workplaces.

ItB次元官网网址檚 not always easy: As much as people crave relationships, he says, many lack strong interpersonal skills.

B次元官网网址淲hen you meet somebody with good relationship skills, a lot of times itB次元官网网址檚 like magic,B次元官网网址 Boscaljon says. B次元官网网址淧eople open up, theyB次元官网网址檒l start to talk, theyB次元官网网址檒l feel comfortable. Then, sometimes, theyB次元官网网址檒l have kind of a B次元官网网址榲ulnerability hangover,B次元官网网址 where theyB次元官网网址檙e like, B次元官网网址業 was too open there. What just happened?B次元官网网址 B次元官网网址 People are so unused to it.B次元官网网址

One key, he says, is to work on oneB次元官网网址檚 own well-being. B次元官网网址淵ou canB次元官网网址檛 have a work personality and a home personality,B次元官网网址 he says. B次元官网网址淲ho you are as a whole person shows up in every place that youB次元官网网址檙e in.B次元官网网址

Another strategy, according to Bungay Stanier, is to communicate with coworkers about how you can best work together before you dive into a project.

B次元官网网址淲eB次元官网网址檝e all got our small little habits and preferences,B次元官网网址 he says. B次元官网网址淎nd we assume whatB次元官网网址檚 normal for us is normal for everyone.B次元官网网址

Raising issues beforehand helps you B次元官网网址渁void making small rips in the fabric of a relationshipB次元官网网址 that keep people from becoming friends, Bungay Stanier says.

Those inevitable rips are also worth discussing. B次元官网网址淭he relationships that thrive are ones that get repaired,B次元官网网址 he says.

Say hi

More than anything, remember the importance of everyday greetings at work B次元官网网址 even if they make you a bit uncomfortable. A simple hello, Bungay Stanier says, could be the beginning of the end of loneliness.




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