Are you lonely at work?

MTM Newsletter January 2024 WORK/LIFE INTEGRATION

The beginning of a new year is a time of planning and anticipation. As you move forward in your career, take a moment to reflect on how you achieved the role you currently hold, how you value your colleagues and work relationships, and what you envision as your legacy. — To your success! Dr. Lucille Maddalena

In 2020, 39% of people in the US reported feeling serious loneliness; among that number, 61% are adults aged 18 to 25.

Experienced leaders often admit that when they began their first job, they were friendly, yet professional to their new colleagues. The common interpretation of ‘professional’ seems to be maintaining a sense of privacy and distance, refraining from discussing personal life events, especially with those in higher positions.

Interestingly, new hires often enforce the same standard of restraint from contact, although in some cases for very different reasons. 

The US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, recently issued an 85-page advisory declaring loneliness a public health epidemic in the US.

The work environment is directly impacted by the mental health of employees, influencing the process of building a team or a network of colleagues.  

How does loneliness impact career success?    
Simone Heng, author of PANDEMIC, has researched loneliness in the business sector.   Jodie Cook refers to Heng in a Forbes August 3, 2022 article emphasizing that “connecting with others is a key part of ensuring your business succeeds.”

Bruce A. Austin from the Rochester University of Technology identifies three types of loneliness:

1. Intimate 2. Relational 3. Collective  

Intimate loneliness is the perceived absence of a significant someone.  
Relational loneliness is the perceived presence/absence of quality friendships or family connection.  
Collective loneliness is the person’s valued social identity or network to connect to similar others at a distance. 

Heng states: “Of the three major types of loneliness, the workplace has offered a reprieve from two of them. However, unless entrepreneurs intentionally foster human connection, solo entrepreneurs may struggle with “collective” and “relational” loneliness and burnout.”   Describing a relationship between connection and energy as “hardwired into humans,” Heng states that “Studies have shown our bodies have more bioenergetic resources when people are embarking on a mission or journey with us, versus going on the same mission alone.”   Heng describes how entrepreneurs stay energized by completing tasks and connecting with people in the office. “Working from home can heighten productivity which creates the emotional stress of being lonely, depressed, or anxious which can lead to burnout.”


Stay Connected — Stay Healthy

“The world is becoming lonelier and there are some very, very worrisome consequences,” said Jeremy Nobel, a Harvard professor whose foundation launched an initiative called “Project Unlonely”.

In the Surgeon General’s study, Murthy noted that “You can be surrounded by lots of people, and you can have lots of followers or connections on social media, but not necessarily feel like you’ve got someone who knows you or shows up for you in a crisis,” he said. Confirming this, the Harvard study found that about half of young adults reported that during the past few weeks, no one had “taken more than just a few minutes” to ask how they were doing, to make them feel that someone “genuinely cared.”

The US Surgeon General’s advisory report found that loneliness increases the risk of premature death by 26% and isolation by 29%.   According to Murthy, “living in isolation is equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”

“Loneliness “won’t just make you miserable,” says Nobel, “loneliness will kill you. That’s why it’s a crisis”. Nobel added that “institutions including school’s, companies, and health care systems can adopt strategies to head off loneliness at the pass.”  

Murthy suggests individuals address the issue by taking 15 minutes every day to reach out to someone they care about or look for ways to serve others. Murthy believes that “when you’re with someone else, make the time count by giving them your full attention and putting devices away.”  

As an Executive Coach, my clients are established and successful in their careers. However, for many, changing work cultures and demands present unforeseen challenges. Even the most entrenched employee today may be seeking a transition to a new opportunity or renewing their skills to maintain a high competency level in an evolving work environment.  

Whether it is an initial choice to maintain some degree of isolation or if there is some type of block preventing connections with others, the importance of connecting with others to form open and trusting relations is clear.  

Two things often occur when there is career advancement:

First, there is often a learning curve as you recognize the influence of the corporate culture from a new perspective. For example, a critical component of the culture in today’s successful firms is to create a caring work environment and building relationships as well as networks.  

Second, the response to a promotion, and perhaps the most striking revelation for many leaders, is a shift in priorities. In many ways, the higher you move up in the company, the ability to perform your work well is not as important as connecting with and inspiring others to succeed.  

Assuming the role of leader has embedded in it the means to make a successful transition by building your legacy: creating followers and working networks for better decision-making and job success.   

As a leader you are a mentor and a role model: two assignments that eclipse all previous relationships. Embracing the role of a leader offers a formal as well as valuable way to stay connected, find satisfaction in your work, and maintain evolving relationships focused on the business mission and vision.  

Questions or ideas to share? Send an email: Copyright L. Maddalena, January 2024 .

Visit to download free articles, ebooks on self-care, and experience what is like to work with a team of sled dogs! Join me at and subscribe to my newsletter Work/Life Integration.
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