INTHEBLACK July 2020 - Page 62



WORK SMART
// C O N N E C T I O N
CPA
LIBRARY
draw attention to the issue. However, people
working in a traditional bricks-and-mortar
office can also feel lonely.
This is because loneliness and social
isolation are not the same thing, Lim explains.
The latter occurs when you have little contact
with anyone. The former is a subjective feeling.
HOW LONELINESS AT WORK HURTS US
STORY LINDA MOON
R E S E A R C H C O N F I R M S T H AT T H E H A P P I E S T W O R K E R S
ARE THOSE IN JOBS WITH A LOT OF INTERPERSONAL
C O N TA C T. I F YO U ’ R E L O N E LY I N Y O U R W O R K , A F E W
S I M P L E S T R AT E G I E S C A N M A K E A L L T H E D I F F E R E N C E .
CONNECT
TO THRIVE
A lot has been written about loneliness.
However, the occupational kind has had little
acknowledgement until recent events.
If you’re feeling isolated at work, you are
not alone.
Forty per cent of Australians, surveyed by
Reventure in 2019, felt lonely on the job, while
those working from home voted professional
and social isolation their biggest negative in
a McCrindle study.
66 ITB July 2020
“Loneliness in the workplace is rarely
addressed, and it is often left to the individual
to solve themselves,” says Dr Michelle Lim,
a senior lecturer in clinical psychology
at Swinburne University of Technology and
scientific chair of the Australian Coalition
to End Loneliness. “Sometimes it can get
confused with mental health issues.”
The COVID-19 pandemic boosted the global
incidence of remote working, and has helped
“Loneliness in employees is associated
with lower work affiliation, productivity
and creativity,” Lim says. Thus, tackling
occupational loneliness should be a key
element of career management.
Of those reporting loneliness in the
Reventure study, 40 per cent felt less
productive. They were also more likely
to get sick.
Work-related loneliness plays a major role
in burnout for owner-managers in SMEs,
according to a 2016 study.
“Connectedness is an essential ingredient
for psychological health,” the researchers
write. Among its benefits is buoying our
resilience to stress.
The toll of loneliness on our mental health
makes it as hazardous to our health as
smoking and other key risks of mortality.
WHO IS AT RISK?
A 2018 American study by BetterUp found
that loneliness doesn’t discriminate by salary,
race, gender, geographical location, or even
length of employment. There were exceptions:
those who didn’t identify as heterosexual,
were recently divorced, or had a small social
circle, were more likely to be lonely.
What did have a significant bearing
on loneliness was the nature of different
industries and professions, and the level
of education. Those with higher levels of
education were lonelier than people who had
only completed an undergraduate degree or
high school certificate. Workers in the
for-profit industry were less lonely than
To read the ebook The Wellbeing Workout by Rick Hughes,
Andrew Kinder and Cary Cooper, visit: cpaaustralia.com.au/library
employees in the government or non-profit
sector. The loneliest workers were in legal
practice, medicine, science, engineering, and
civil service. The least lonely worked in social
work, sales, and marketing – roles with
high levels of interpersonal contact.
Dan Schawbel, managing partner of
Workplace Intelligence and author of Back
to Human: How Great Leaders Create
Connection in the Age of Isolation, says
professionals with higher educational
backgrounds have fewer peers on their
level to connect with, and fewer free hours
for socialising due to a business model of
billable hours.
REDISCOVER BEING HUMAN
Schawbel believes our growing sense of
aloneness is strongly related to the shift to
working from home and our over-reliance on
technology to communicate.
“The more you use these digital devices to
connect, the more you feel like something’s
missing from your life – which is human
connection,” he says.
Highlighting the value of old-fashioned
communication, Schawbel found if you work
remotely, you’re much less likely to want a
long-term career in your company. He says
“relationships in the workplace are an anchor
to the company”.
Technology can be a “bridge” or “block”
to connection, depending on how you use it,
Schawbel says. Videoconferencing tools can
help people connect, but will never substitute
for real human interaction, he says.
He recommends sticking to simple rules
around how you use technology. “Know when,
where, and how you’re going to use the
technology to connect. Match the right
medium with the right circumstance. If you
are just notifying someone of an upcoming
meeting, a text or an email would do, but if
you’re about to lay off an employee, it has to
be done in person or by video. There has to
be an emotional element. You can’t really
express that in text, or people can take it the
wrong way, and, if you’re going back and forth
to get a point across, that’s feedback that you
should have just picked up the phone for in
the first place.”
Disengage with tech at meetings. Give your
attention to those physically around you, for
example by putting mobile phones in a bucket
or basket, he suggests.
Be a leader, not a follower. “Set the standard,
set the expectations,” Schawbel says. He notes,
for instance, that some managers strongly
encourage employees to use video when
making calls.
One of the leaders he interviewed for Back
to Human budgets for the cost to fly to meet
employees across the world. “Make time to be
with people where they are,” he says. While it
might be more work to pick up the phone or
travel to meet in person, it’s worth the
investment. “You’re more likely to have better,
stronger relationships if you do that.”
Put pressure on yourself to be with your
team or meet new people within your
organisation. “It’s not just good for preventing
loneliness, it’s good for getting added work,
because relationships lead to all the
opportunities that are valuable to you
throughout your life,” Schawbel adds.
Build socialisation into your calendar, and
maximise every aspect of your day to be
social. “If it’s not in our calendars, it doesn’t
exist,” he says. “Block out time to have a
phone call with someone during the day.”
The tendency towards work creep – where
work encroaches into after-hours territory
– can rob us of social contact. It is also
associated with burnout, he adds.
“You’re in this together.
It only takes one action
to become less lonely.
That’s the good news.
All you have to do is
reach out.”
DAN SCHAWBEL,
WORKPLACE INTELLIGENCE
“Seek out others in a similar situation within
your network, a professional association or
Facebook group. Create a support group.
You’re in this together. It only takes one action
to become less lonely. That’s the good news.
All you have to do is reach out.”
Calling loneliness a global epidemic and
a health crisis, Schawbel says, “we all have a
role in preventing loneliness from hurting
people’s lives, and we can all make ourselves
less lonely”.
REMOTE, YET CONNECTED
Coco Hou CPA, a tax agent, accountant, and
managing director of Platinum Accounting
and Platinum Professional Training, combats
loneliness with a disciplined daily schedule
that includes gratitude practices, yoga and
connecting to others. “You have to make your
own cup full,” she says.
Sydney-based Hou introduced her
strategies to her team when they started
working remotely under COVID-19 restrictions,
and she noted a slight drop in productivity.
Every morning, employees send photos of
themselves and their workspace to each other
using WhatsApp. “They’re in suits and at
desks and saying hi to the team,” Hou says.
After going through emails and sorting
tasks, everyone logs into an online meeting
on Microsoft Teams to share good news and
the three most important tasks of their day.
“After the meeting, we let Microsoft Teams
run all day in order to create that virtual office
environment,” Hou says. Along with providing
a sense of working with colleagues in the same
room, they can “virtually” tap another person
on the shoulder for a quick, private chat.
“Shutting down the computer at 5pm is an
ideal goal,” says Hou, a single parent. “The
biggest problem right now is they don’t know
how to draw the line after working hours.”
Hou has introduced virtual office drinks,
where everyone turns off their email.
“Don’t browse Facebook in the day either,”
she warns. Unproductive work can contribute
to longer work hours.
“All the team members are even closer in
this epidemic,” Hou says.
Caring for others has unexpectedly fed
her own social needs. Recently, she had a
Zoom catch-up with a team member who
was struggling.
“I realised we all face different challenges
in life. When we exchange stories, it actually
makes all of us feel empowered and cared for.
You don’t feel lonely anymore. You’re not the
only person who’s going through this.”
intheblack.com July 2020 67

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