Being naturally introverted, having social anxiety or even just being intimidated by your new surroundings (and colleagues) can all be reasons for feeling lonely at work. We've all been there. Maybe you're there right now. Loneliness is hard, and it can isolate you, creating a divide both you and your coworkers find more and more difficult to cross. Take faith, however. It's not all in your head, or all your fault, and you definitely aren't being too sensitive. Being lonely at work is a real concern. And you're not the only one dealing with it.
Why workplace loneliness is a problem
There's a lot of data to show that people are becoming lonelier than ever, secluded behind screens as so many of us are. And loneliness has been clinically proven to be bad for our health, both mentally and physically. Yet how many of us have even factored in feeling lonely at work, and the effects it can have not just on a person, but on the entire office?
Some academic studies are now focusing directly on this issue, finding that (big surprise) loneliness affects your productivity and overall performance. But even more interesting? Revealing your loneliness to coworkers or employers can actually make the situation worse, essentially turning you into an outcast.
Which means that even though general awareness of mental health issues overall is growing, you still probably can't just say, Hey, I'm feeling pretty lonely at work right now. You run the risk of being ostracized as weak, too sensitive or even just silly. So how are you supposed to navigate being lonely, when you basically have to do it alone?
How do you deal with isolation at work?
1. Be okay with being an introvert
This piece written by an introvert for the Guardian brings to light a real life concern a lot of us have: we simply aren't social butterflies. Finding friends at work can be outright exhausting to deal with. The first step? Give yourself time to meet people naturally, and don't force it.
2. Know that you're not alone
And that by reaching out, even a little, even just once, can help alleviate someone else's loneliness too. By directing your energy toward helping someone else, you'll be taking away some of that pressure on yourself to make friends. Inviting another solo coworker along to the break room for a coffee can make their day, and maybe also yours.
3. Stop blaming yourself
Listen: You're not going to click with everyone you work with. And you know what? That's normal. Maybe you work in a high stress environment, with everyone focused more on meeting deadlines than chatting. That isn't quite the "we're all in this together" vibe that makes it easy to form friendships, is it?
4. Learn the art of the compliment
Next person you say hello to, give them a small compliment as well. "I like your shirt, it's a nice color" is quick and pretty painless, and next time that person sees you they'll already have a positive association in mind. Once you get comfortable with making compliments, start incorporating them into more of your daily interactions. People like friendly people.
5. Look around at lunch
You might notice another lonely heart among your coworkers. Be a little brave and ask if they'd like company. Feeling shy or anxious about chatting through lunch? Lead with a compliment, and let them follow. Remember: a good conversation takes more than one person. You don't have to worry about doing all the heavy lifting.
6. Focus on your social life
If work is a bust in terms of socializing, focus on filling your calendar with people and activities you enjoy. Even the most introverted among us need at least some interaction, and finding groups or clubs organized around things you already like means you'll already have something to talk about when you get there.
7. Ask yourself, Do I smell funny?
Okay, maybe not literally (although keeping tabs on your personal hygiene standards vs those of your coworkers isn't a bad idea), but more philosophically. If you're very different from most of the people you work with, maybe something about how you present is off-putting to them. Do you over or under dress? Do you like to talk politics (and they don't)? Take notes on standard office behavior, and don't be afraid to try to blend in.
8. Don't aim for prom queen
Office politics can make you feel like you have to win the one ring to rule them all. You don't. What you do need? One or two people with whom you really connect. Being popular isn't really the cure for feeling lonely at work. Have genuine connections is.
9. Be the change you want
It's a fact that loneliness is both contagious and can become self-perpetuating. If you're operating in an environment that tends to isolate or pit employees against each other, choose not to participate in that toxic culture. Again, say hello, give compliments. Reach out, even just a little.
10. Find a new job
The fact is, if you worked for a company that welcomed new faces, and incorporated supportive teamwork elements into its operating culture, you'd have a chance to create a cozy little circle of friends. But if you're loneliness persists, even after repeated efforts on your part to combat it? Then the job just isn't healthy for you, and it's time to move on.
1. What is isolation in the workplace?
Intentional or not, isolation begins with a person or group feeling as if they just don't belong. This could be the new woman, or an older generation feeling invaded by an influx of new hires. Isolation is a pervasive sense of dissonance between employees.
2. How do I make friends at work?
The most important thing to remember is that friendships take time. Starting small is the best as well as the easiest way to make friends. Give compliments, practice pleasant chitchat, invite someone along on your lunch break. Build your confidence with baby steps.
3. What is workplace ostracism?
This is when work becomes all about cliques and politics. You can't have cool kids without also having un-cool kids. It's a more acute and intentional form of isolation, when coworkers target someone, or a group, as black sheep. Company culture can play a large part here, especially if cutthroat competition is encouraged, because ostracism is always based on fear.
4. How can I work alone?
Working alone isn't the same as being lonely at work. If you feel no need to get to know your coworkers, or you've tried and made no headway, talk to your boss about moving your desk, taking work home or even just transferring to a different department. Don't be afraid to reach out to HR, as they might be able to help you find a better arrangement.
Loneliness is a dangerous state of mind, because it can become a state of being. Feeling lonely at work is particularly challenging, because it affects your performance quality as well as your quality of life.
Look at your loneliness as a symptom. Ask why you feel this way: Could I be doing something better here, or is it something in my environment that simply isn't working for me? Whatever answers you find, take action. Don't let feeling lonely at work isolate you. Rather, let your loneliness be an agent of change.