During the many years that the 19th and 21st U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, cared for patients, he said, “The most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.” If the most common ailment among people is loneliness, then assume loneliness lingers on your team. The question isn’t if your team is lonely, but how many team members are.

In our book “Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In,” we reference new research of more than 2,000 global workers that supports Murthy’s statement: We found that 94% of global workers believe their co-workers experience loneliness at least monthly, with 79% saying weekly.

Non-lonely workers report higher job satisfaction, more promotions, less frequent job switching and a lower likelihood of quitting their current job in the next six months. Identifying lonely workers and then moving them from disconnected to connected is beneficial for the individual, team and business.

Within organizations, leaders and close colleagues are best positioned to spot workers struggling with loneliness. However, loneliness can be difficult to identify because it’s a subjective experience. There are no rules about what it looks like.

Many people may also hide their feelings for fear of embarrassment, or because they don’t want to appear weak. This can make loneliness difficult to identify. As a manager or concerned co-worker, your best approach is to take the time to get to know and really understand the people on your team. This will help you to recognize when someone is feeling disconnected or left out by the rest of the team. Be sure to listen to other team members’ concerns, too; They might be more aware of their colleague’s feelings and emotions than you are.

Loneliness is defined by the absence of connection, not necessarily people. Workplace loneliness is defined by the distress caused by the perceived inadequacy of a quality connection to teammates, leaders and the organization itself.

Here are the five most common identifiers of lonely workers. As an exercise, think of someone on your team that you suspect might be feeling lonely. Which of the following applies to that person?

1. Lack of Learning and Development (L&D)

Curiosity and a growth mindset are good indicators of employee engagement. When employees are leaning into learning, they show a level of optimism about their future. When they don’t, it could be because they are disengaged or disconnected.

Some examples are:

  • Limited participation in training.
  • Disdain for extracurricular or team-building activities.
  • Failure to ask questions.
  • A disinterest in career progression.

2. Change in Routine

Engaged employees are reliable, with recognizable routines. Reliable employees whose routines change might be an indicator of a growing sense of isolation.

Some examples are:

  • Showing up to work late.
  • Taking extra-long lunches.
  • Leaving or logging off early.
  • Working late nights or weekends.

3. Stops Offering Input

Feelings of insecurity are associated with loneliness. When workers stop offering suggestions or participating in goal setting, it could be because they do not want to be seen.

Some examples are:

  • Lack of eye contact during meetings.
  • Not speaking during meetings.
  • Failure to ask for feedback.
  • Avoids planning or strategy sessions.

4. Skips or Resents Meetings

Lonely people avoid others. Not showing up or arriving routinely late to meetings indicates a disconnected worker. Lonely people can also be hostile to those around them.

Some examples are:

  • Not apologizing for being late.
  • Keeping camera off during video meetings.
  • Being disgruntled during meetings.

Being quick to anger while among others.

5. Only Talks Work

Lonely workers are often unwilling to talk about non-work-related items. Only talking about work is a signal that someone isn’t interested in developing connections.

Some examples are:

  • Not talking about hobbies.
  • Shying away from discussing personal topics.
  • Being wary to engage in small talk.
  • Deflecting any non-work-related questions.

Ducking, dodging and disregarding loneliness at work can’t continue. It’s time to address loneliness. We need more leaders to intervene and turn the tide on this crippling condition and to help their teams and businesses thrive.

As you look more closely at the loneliness levels surrounding your team, maybe you’ll be encouraged, discouraged or indifferent. But however you feel, know that there are actionable steps you can take to improve the connectedness and sense of belonging of your team, no matter how dire the situation. You alone have the power to break and reverse the negative cycles of workplace loneliness.

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