Loneliness might seem incongruous with the shiny, happy social media profiles of your friends and colleagues, but new research from Future Workplace and Virgin Pulse reveals that 39% of employees feel lonely at work. Gen Z and Millennial workers, in particular, experience loneliness more often, and their feelings of isolation can cause them to disengage at the office.
Bestselling author Dan Schawbel attributes the rise in isolation in part to technology, and he urges companies to create a workplace where people feel connected and engaged—encouraged to develop their interpersonal skills rather than relying too heavily on technology for communication. Improving employee well-being also improves engagement, which in turn leads to higher productivity.
Dan is a partner and research director at Future Workplace, and he's the founder of Millennial Branding and WorkPlaceTrends.com. He's also the bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success and Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future.
I invited Dan to Marketing Smarts to talk about his his latest book, Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation. The book includes proprietary research into connectivity in the workplace, with survey data from more than 2,000 managers and employees across various age groups from 10 countries.
In Back to Human, Dan explains how electronic and virtual communication contributes to a stronger sense of isolation at work than ever before, and he offers tips for combating isolation to keep workers engaged and fulfilled.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation.
Technology is a bridge, don't let it become a barrier (02:25): "The first part of my career was all about how to use social media to build a personal brand, but I think now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. As I was using social media, I became more and more isolated. While that might have felt comfortable, as an introvert, at the same time the connections I had—both personally and professionally—were being hurt.
"I realized that technology can be a bridge to more human connection. We can't let it be used as a barrier. We can't let it get in the way of the interactions we have with people—our team and our family, our friends—because those relationships create fulfillment, happiness, and wellbeing. We need to use technology the right way, to eliminate the tasks we don't even want to do."
To get what you want faster, talk to the other person instead of firing off another email (03:54): "In the study we did with Virgin Pulse of over 2,000 managers and employees in 10 countries, we found that almost half of someone's workday is being used with technology instead of in-person. And the thing that gets in the way of human connection the most is email....
"It's just so much easier for certain tasks to just walk over four steps and actually tell someone what you mean. Because when you're exchanging that many emails, things can be lost, there can be misunderstanding, and people can perform the wrong task as a result or make mistakes or just not know what to do. You can eliminate all that with just a phone call or walking over. That's especially relevant for remote workers."
Create a culture that encourages continuous learning (06:34): "Work is the work you do and who you do it with, so you need coworkers that are very supportive. I have a whole chapter called 'practice shared learning.' If you create a culture where people are constantly learning or sharing with each other, that creates touchpoints. Everyone benefits. The average relevancy of a learned skill is only five years, so to keep up with all the changes in business, we have to rely on each other and share what we know so we can all become more effective and relevant at our jobs."
For employee engagement and retention, use the IRL "Like" and "Comment" functions liberally (16:42): "People want instant gratification. That's what we've learned by observing technology addiction. They don't want to wait for an annual performance review. They need feedback regularly, maybe even every day. As a leader, as a teammate, it's important to help people understand what they're doing right and what they can improve on. For instance, you see one of your colleagues in a meeting and they're speaking in front of your team and they share some really great ideas. That's great, but say the tone in which they're preaching these ideas is very negative and off-putting.
"After the meeting, take them aside and say, 'I think you really did a good job coming up with these ideas. I think we can implement some of them and really make a difference for our team and our organization. But, in terms of how you expressed these ideas, it's not going to be as effective for you and could turn people off because that's what I felt during the meeting.' If you say that in the right tone, if you're thoughtful and nice and kind about it, that's going to make a big impact on that person. There's really no surprises during an annual performance review if people have been getting feedback along the way and have improved."
Everyone loves bonuses, but don't stop there; do more to recognize your top employees (18:52): "People want recognition from their managers, even over [recognition from] executives, we've just found. It's really important to make people feel special, regardless of where they are and what their title is. For example, David Novak would have an event and recognize employees; and, instead of just handing someone a check, he would give them a rubber chicken or chatter teeth or something [else] funny. It was personal, funny, and [it] made people feel special, and that's really what people want, not even just at work but at home. People just want to feel special and cared about. No matter how much technology we have, no matter if we're working 100 hours a week, we need to inject more humanity."
For more information, visit DanSchawbel.com or follow Dan on Twitter: @DanSchawbel. Get your copy of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, and be sure to check out Dan's podcast, "5 Questions with Dan Schawbel," too.
Dan and I covered a lot more ground, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at Future Workplace, founder of Millennial Branding and WorkplaceTrends.com, and bestselling author of Me 2.0, Promote Yourself, and Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation