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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
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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 employeessa国际传媒 happiness. And also to companiessa国际传媒 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 sa国际传媒 what they worry about, what theysa国际传媒檙e grateful for, what theysa国际传媒檙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 sa国际传媒10 Minutes to Togetherness.sa国际传媒

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 squaressa国际传媒

The problem of loneliness has been bubbling for decades; Robert D. Putnam documented it in his groundbreaking book sa国际传媒淏owling Alonesa国际传媒 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 sa国际传媒淗ow to Work with (Almost) Anyone.sa国际传媒

sa国际传媒淧eople have this desire to be seen and be heard,sa国际传媒 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 sa国际传媒渓ittle heads in squares.sa国际传媒

Itsa国际传媒檚 not easy to talk about this lack of friendship at work sa国际传媒渂ecause it feels like a shameful confession,sa国际传媒 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 Universitysa国际传媒檚 well-known class sa国际传媒淭he Science of Well Being.sa国际传媒

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 employeessa国际传媒 happiness sa国际传媒- and companiessa国际传媒 success.

We assume that friendships at work are sa国际传媒渁 nice-to-have, not a need-to-have,sa国际传媒 she said.

But sa国际传媒渕aybe one of the reasons wesa国际传媒檙e all so disengaged at work, maybe one of the reasons sa国际传媒榪uiet quittingsa国际传媒 seems so appealing, is that wesa国际传媒檙e actively not investing in the thing that might matter the most for our happiness at work, which is our connection with other people,sa国际传媒 Santos said.

New spaces, new programs and `casual collisionssa国际传媒

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 sa国际传媒渁re not just checking boxes, but actually looking at ways to really enhance peoplesa国际传媒檚 health and well-being,sa国际传媒 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:

sa国际传媒 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 sa国际传媒渃asual collisionssa国际传媒 that can lead to good relationships. Some are trying to transform green rooftops sa国际传媒 created to be environmentally friendly sa国际传媒 into gathering spaces.

sa国际传媒 Create groups and events to help employees find friends who share their interests. sa国际传媒淚t could even be something goofy, like an ice cream social for dog lovers, where wesa国际传媒檙e going to teach you how to make healthy ice cream for your dog,sa国际传媒 Heidelberger says.

sa国际传媒 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.

Itsa国际传媒檚 not always easy: As much as people crave relationships, he says, many lack strong interpersonal skills.

sa国际传媒淲hen you meet somebody with good relationship skills, a lot of times itsa国际传媒檚 like magic,sa国际传媒 Boscaljon says. sa国际传媒淧eople open up, theysa国际传媒檒l start to talk, theysa国际传媒檒l feel comfortable. Then, sometimes, theysa国际传媒檒l have kind of a sa国际传媒榲ulnerability hangover,sa国际传媒 where theysa国际传媒檙e like, sa国际传媒業 was too open there. What just happened?sa国际传媒 sa国际传媒 People are so unused to it.sa国际传媒

One key, he says, is to work on onesa国际传媒檚 own well-being. sa国际传媒淵ou cansa国际传媒檛 have a work personality and a home personality,sa国际传媒 he says. sa国际传媒淲ho you are as a whole person shows up in every place that yousa国际传媒檙e in.sa国际传媒

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

sa国际传媒淲esa国际传媒檝e all got our small little habits and preferences,sa国际传媒 he says. sa国际传媒淎nd we assume whatsa国际传媒檚 normal for us is normal for everyone.sa国际传媒

Raising issues beforehand helps you sa国际传媒渁void making small rips in the fabric of a relationshipsa国际传媒 that keep people from becoming friends, Bungay Stanier says.

Those inevitable rips are also worth discussing. sa国际传媒淭he relationships that thrive are ones that get repaired,sa国际传媒 he says.

Say hi

More than anything, remember the importance of everyday greetings at work sa国际传媒 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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