Cultivating Community | Beat Loneliness at Work

Social media and online networking platforms can make us feel that we are more deeply connected than ever before. We get our news in real time, build “hives” of supporters on Instagram, and can find just about anyone with a simple online search.

However, a 2018 report by Cigna Health showed that greater connectivity doesn’t necessarily result in a feeling of community. Despite the ease with which we can connect, nearly half of all adults feel like they are going it alone. This “loneliness epidemic” has been identified as a public health crisis—and carries over into work life too.

Luckily, there are ways to combat loneliness and strive for connection on the job.

Build bonds

It’s important to have boundaries in the workplace, but being professional doesn’t mean you can’t also be personable. You might set aside the first few minutes of a meeting to truly check in with colleagues. Whether it’s celebrating personal accomplishments from the previous week, highlighting events from the weekend, or circling back on the outcome of a coworker’s rec league baseball tournament, these casual conversations can bolster bonds among colleagues.

Checking in about personal matters shows investment in more than just the workload or final product. It’s evidence that you care about your coworkers an individual level as well.

Create community

It’s hard to feel alone when you’re collaborating with others. Fostering a sense of teamwork and camaraderie is essential for changemakers looking to combat loneliness at work.

Hosting weekly meetings over lunch, where conversations are equal parts business and pleasure is one way to forge connections between colleagues. Whether it’s at a conference table or a kitchen table, sharing a meal is known to fast track relationships and increase familiarity. Making it an occasional potluck with the addition of favorite family recipe adds a personal touch and promotes storytelling among colleagues as well.

Assigning tasks to teams rather than individuals can also boost productivity while encouraging collaboration. Building partnerships into projects invites connection across disciplines and can strengthen community in the office. For those newly minted in the nonprofit sector, establishing on-site mentoring programs with professionals further along in the field can have the same positive impact by inviting a sense of belonging early into a new job.

Community can be created outside of the workplace, too. Joining up with like-minded changemakers in similar pursuits through professional organizations and local events can combat feelings of isolation and burnout while broadening networks.

Aspire to show appreciation

Everyone likes to feel valued at work, but tight deadlines and packed schedules can make it difficult to recognize colleagues for a job well done. Carve out a few minutes a week to consider your team’s recent efforts. Did one of your coworkers take on extra work while another team member was out sick? Or did your boss provide extra support in getting you involved with a new project? Take the time to thank them.

You might kick off meetings with shout-outs for those who went the extra mile, or send at least one “thank you” email to a coworker each week. Building a culture of gratitude at work can help people feel valued and connected.

Get social

Joining a staff sports league or attending post-work happy hours sometimes feels like a continuation of the job—particularly when folks spend out-of-office time talking about in-office projects. But cultivating moments for interpersonal connection is essential to combating loneliness.

You can make post-work gatherings feel more like fun by shifting conversations from professional life to personal interests. Re-focusing coworker interactions away from work offers a new way to get to know the people with whom you spend eight hours a day.

If organized activities aren’t your thing, try to add some casual socializing into your workday. You might sit with your team during your lunch hour or invite a coworker for a coffee outside the office. Taking small steps to socialize can transform casual acquaintances into potential friends and increase the sense of community in your 9-to-5.

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Have tips for decreasing loneliness and increasing connection at work? Leave them in the comments below.

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Jill Nawrocki is a Licensed Social Worker and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer living in Brooklyn. She is an ultra runner, freelance writer, and social justice warrior with a background in program management, direct practice, mindfulness, and advocacy.
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