The world today abounds with ironies. How else can we explain growing loneliness despite being digitally connected more than ever? Thanks to rapid strides by communication technology one can get in touch with anyone across continents and oceans at the click of a button. Yet loneliness and its impact on mental health are haunting the business world.
The grave concern was echoed by the World Economic Forum at Davos this January. A report presented there warned that the global mental health crisis could cost the world $16 trillion by 2030. This will not only lower business efficiency, productivity and economic growth but will also drastically impair our social fabric.
The report authored by Elisha London, Chief Executive Officer, United for Global Mental Health, and Peter Varnum, Project Lead, Global Health and Healthcare, World Economic Forum, states, “Loneliness and isolation affect many of the most vulnerable among us. People with serious conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are especially likely to be marginalised by their communities. Those with the most severe conditions pay with their lives, dying prematurely – as much as two decades before their time.”
Persons at the highest levels in government, private sector and civil society have taken cognizance of the daunting challenge and are discussing ways to overcome it. All over the world, business leaders and management researchers are putting their heads together to devise appropriate and geography-relevant work culture changes.
Effort at the community level is no less important as mental health cannot be compartmentalised into home and work place. Both are inextricably linked. Loneliness and isolation can afflict one both at home and office. Vulnerability to a sense of being socially abandoned is equal in severity at both the places.
There is no doubt that technological progress has made our lives easier and comfortable in many ways. But the hyper-connected to such large number of tech devices has also added to stress, loneliness and anxiety. A 2010 report by the American Association of Retired Persons has found that loneliness has doubled since the 1980’s.
Over 40% of adults in America feel lonely. The human touch is missing. Relationships with kith and kin have broken down and technology is unable to compensate that loss. EuroHeartCare 2018, which is the European Society of Cardiology’s annual congress, revealed that loneliness can be a strong “predictor of dying too soon”. Loneliness is a debilitating factor at the work-place as well. The AARP report states, “Loneliness and feeling isolated at work can lead to decline in productivity due to mental and emotional exhaustion.” After all, people spend one-third of their lives at work.
Howsoever dire and threatening, things are not beyond redemption. There are ways to change the corporate DNA. It is not rocket science either. Consistent and caring human resource development practices can usher in significant positive changes.
The HR team needs to ensure that there are opportunities for new connections during the pre-hire and post-hire process. Most employees, both managerial and staff-level, do feel a sense of anxiety before joining a new company. A well-documented process of connectedness should be in place even before the new employee agrees to join.
The potential new-hire will feel far less isolated if he is fully briefed about the company culture and also introduced to members of the team informally. Once the person has joined, he should be given time to interact with his colleagues at group lunches and similar events. The corporate communications team should provide to the new entrant a comprehensive dossier carrying both hard and soft facts about the organisation as per the need and demand of his position. This will make him feel more engaged and connected with the organisation.
It would be obvious from the above description that the work culture should be rooted in empathy and compassion. If the culture aims at promoting high performance, then focus should be on respectfulness, honesty, support and empathy. Empathy is known to prevent burnout and work exhaustion – so common in the current ultra-competitive corporate world. Research published in 2014 by Jane Dutton, co-author of Awakening Compassion at Work, came to the conclusion that compassion could be a key tool in fostering improved levels of workplace resiliency.
Are your employees enjoying doing their job? Or are they feeling having fallen in a rut? This needs to be assessed as soon as possible and rectified. Efficient and effective working is important but so is enjoying the job. Routine and mundane work saps energy and dedication to work.
HR managers of enlightened companies, therefore, pay lot of attention to formal and informal group activities, mostly outside office. This not only rejuvenates the mind and heart but also bolsters team spirit, a perfect antidote to loneliness. Working managers today also expect the company to arrange training and mentoring to help them remain on top of the learning curve.
Innovation and out-of-the-box thinking need to be encouraged and rewarded.
To keep your spirit high you need to keep your physique fit and robust. The two go best together. Therefore, top managements should ensure that their rank and file work smart and not too hard. A good employee will be able to accomplish his task in time. Over-time working is symbolic of inefficiency. It is also a drain on the office resources in more ways than one.
Can a sleepy-eyed manager, who worked over time yesterday, put in his best today? And what if this becomes a routine? His physical well-being will go for a toss. The brain too will not be spared. Prioritisation of work needs to be promoted. It should become second nature for managers. Sports and entertainment will add to wellness.
Here I will like to quote United States Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, who stated the following in the Harvard Business Review: “If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and in society. Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges before us, we will retreat to our corners, angry, sick, and alone. We must take action now to build the connections that are the foundation of strong companies and strong communities — and that ensure greater health and well-being for all of us.”
It is thus obvious that social connection is a key factor in contributing to the company’s bottom line. Let’s build and nurture this bond.
Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (firstname.lastname@example.org)