HRM Five: Combatting workplace loneliness

Former US Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy has called on organisations to reduce loneliness in the workplace.
By: | November 26, 2014

Yamini Chinnuswamy offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.


Facebook, Whatsapp, and FaceTime are just a few products of the technological advancements that have allowed human beings to stay connected with each other. But we might just be the loneliest we have ever been.

Former US Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy, who served in 2014 to 2017, under former US President Barack Obama, calls loneliness a growing health epidemic – one which has infiltrated the workplace.

“At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making,” he writes, in an editorial for the Harvard Business Review.

“For our health and our work, it is imperative that we address the loneliness epidemic quickly,” he adds, citing Gallup research which found that strong social connections at work means employees who are more engaged, more productive, and healthier.

Here are five ways to create connections – and mitigate loneliness – in your office.


  1. Foster an environment that encourages people to connect beyond work.

    This could be as simple as having sharing sessions during department meetings where people talk about what they did over the weekend or even have a “show-and-tell” to nurture conversations about hobbies and other interests.


  1. Pay attention.

    When recruiting, think about how someone will fit into your office environment. Not just in terms of work ethic, but in terms of personality and culture fit. A candidate may be great on paper, but if they feel disconnected from their fellow team-mates, it will make them unhappier in the long run – and that is likely to affect their work.

    At the same time, take note if particular employees have uncharacteristic bouts of introversion. This could be a sign that something is wrong, and HR might need to support them through it. (That being said, it’s important to realise that some people are just shy or introverted.)


  1. Don’t forget they’re people.

    We’re all fighting our own fires at work. But make sure your employees don’t feel like work is getting piled on to them, with no consideration of how they are coping or feeling. They won’t just end up feeling isolated, but also apathetic and unmotivated to work.

    This is where the personal HR touch comes in. Try to have your team check in with every employee once in a while, just to see how they’re doing.


  1. Nip bad behaviour in the bud.

    All it takes to wreck an office environment is one person exhibiting toxic behaviour. There is nothing more isolating than being gossiped about, bullied, or backstabbed – whether these are perpetrated by co-workers, bosses, or even sub-ordinates.

    Beyond the social responsibility we all have to look out for employees, especially as “people managers”,  it’s worth noting that it’s not just the direct victims who experience the negative effects of toxic behaviour.


  1. Get senior management buy-in.

    “Having senior members of an organization invest in building strong connections with other team members can set a powerful example, especially when leaders are willing to demonstrate that vulnerability can be a source of strength, not weakness,” says Murthy.

    You will need to evaluate if the policies and culture at your organisation allow for the nurturing of positive inter-personal relationships. A company where people feel pitted against one another to meet business targets is more conducive to feelings of isolation and connection.