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Sep 27, 2019

Loneliness seems intensely personal, private problem, but it’s much more than that. At work, loneliness is another effect of the inadequate attention paid to the human side of getting stuff done. While we understand the prioritization of friends and family, we often miss out on meaningful interaction with the person next to us, focusing on growing our “professional networks” more than we look next to us to develop higher-quality connections. In my opinion, this kind of thinking is unhealthy, unhelpful, and unproductive, but it’s pervasive in our industry.

The quality of our social connections impacts our physical and emotional well-being, and change the company you currently work for. You, see for me cultivating higher-quality relationships with co-workers requires a 360-degree approach – yep, I used an HR term, taking responsibility for how we interact with each other and how you treat yourself is the key to success as a whole being.

When you start feeling isolated at work, you also get demoralized and detached—perhaps even depressed. I came across an article on Forbes called “Global Study Identified Loneliness In The Workplace: Five Solutions To Improve Employee Engagement.” It’s a good read; however, I want to focus on the loneliness part, not so much on the solution part. I think it’s much deeper than a few solutions, and maybe we in the industry go directly to the answers because we are in the positions of service wanting to support or help, but I don’t want to focus on the solutions.

The study found that loneliness led to withdrawing from work and weaker productivity, motivation, and performance. The study also showed that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, that “co-workers can recognize this loneliness and see it hindering team member effectiveness.” Loneliness is a personal emotion, but it’s not a private concern, its not about being a remote employee, so let’s stay on the subject – loneliness. Ok, so the effect of loneliness echoes, becoming a concern for the team, the organization, and the community.

If you lead, mentor, manage or even a senior IC, the vital ingredients of what makes us fulfilled in our work is the nourishment of human connection, let me repeat that so it can soak in – human connection. We need recognition, gratitude, encouragement, emotional support, and camaraderie are all elements of the nourishment factor.

“Appraisals are where you get together with your team leader and agree what an outstanding member of the team you are, how much your contribution has been valued, what massive potential you have and, in recognition of all this, would you mind having your salary halved.” -Theodore Roosevelt once wrote, and in what seems to be an ever-head-down, busily streaming industry, that seems a harder truth than ever. Your full attention is how you connect to others, while our pragmatic attitudes about work have little room even to consider generosity.

The human nourishments, these acts of generosity, of giving and receiving our full attention, expressing gratitude, and providing support truly feeds our core, makes us more resilient and enduring and helps us to strive.

How you pay attention and act with compassion, though, starts with yourself. “Your brain is tied to your heart,” explains Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina. The more you tune into others, “the healthier you become, and vice versa.”

Your vagus nerve, I know – what? Is the nerve that connects the heart-to-head, among many things, it helps calm a stressed, scared, or anxious racing heart and tunes your ear to human voices. The strength of this sympathetic nerve is measured by the relationship between heart rate and breathing rate. The higher the tone, the better your physical and emotional health—from your cardiovascular system and glucose levels to superior regulation of emotion, cognitive flexibility, and social connection with others.

Dr. Fredrickson, studied participants practicing a form of Buddhist meditation called Metta, or loving-kindness, cultivating benevolent feelings of goodwill and compassion towards themselves and to others. The result was increased the individual vagal tone, as well as increased positive emotions and social connectedness. Can you imagine if our industry made efforts in this form of self-care? I can.

Nourish yourself and your team at work, learn not to feel so alone while working together. You are part of a team, and in turn, that team is greater than the sum of its parts, creating and resonating with cohesive, electrifying energy. Here are some ways you can build more meaningful, nourishing connections as a member of your working world, as well as examples of how some companies are attaining that group resonance.

What if we took our metrics and adjusted the “success” based on the entire team and NOT based on the individual? Now you all may be asking, but Kay… how can we promote individuals, well, I say you can identify leaders, you still recognize individuals. This is more about elevating the term TEAM and creating an actual inclusive and empowering environment. Nothing says it can’t be done, right?

Learn how to share, sounds weird to say that in this industry since we are inherently competitive; however, this is about human connection. So, if you’re feeling continual isolation anywhere; work, home, or anywhere in between, your emotions are telling you to take another look at your circumstances. So be kind and attentive to yourself first. Often we put our heads down to get work done or to get through the day and don’t allow the chance to listen to ourselves. Here is a suggestion, trade-in fifteen minutes of scrolling through your Facebook connections for fifteen minutes of your mind’s relationship. You can find awesome apps to help with timing and guiding meditation. Before you start your team meeting suggest a 5-minute meditation, use one of the apps, and see if it changes your conversations. I would recommend a month of this practice and understand.

Being present, being available, and paying attention, even in a short interaction, can only be demonstrated, not drummed up by saying that’s what you’re doing. Managers can’t know that they care about their team members, and then never be around to listen to them, right?

Nourish your peers with recognition and gratitude. The way many companies handle employee recognition is broken and counterproductive, dismissing, and disrespecting the hard work that people do every day. Not only do most recognition approaches treat feedback like a formal event, administered by managers from on high, they also fail to acknowledge how that hard work often involves helping someone else.

Take time to do small things. The smallest gestures like consideration and supportiveness can make a difference in one’s feelings of isolation. It’s quality, not quantity, and little moments of pure attention, support, encouragement, and fun can charge people up with a much-needed spark. Man, I know it means a lot to me.

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