Humans are social beings, and when we feel disconnected and lonely, everyone suffers – including the business. Here’s what research tells us about the current challenges workers are feeling. Some of these issues have been brought on by the protracted COVID-19 pandemic, but much of it derives from a longer-term lack of connection and belonging at work.
We feel lonely and lack human connection.
According to EY, even in 2019 more than 40% of U.S. respondents said they felt physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace. (Twarnonite, 2019) The COVID-19 pandemic has proven catastrophic for that sense of human connection.
When McKinsey asked workers about the state of their internal and external networks and connections, more than three-quarters of respondents said they were connecting with others less frequently, have smaller networks, and spend less time and effort on relationship building. (Bartholomeusz et al 2021) Another 2021 study showed that workplace loneliness is high and has led to emotional deprivation and a lack of social companionship. Workplace loneliness, the study reported, accounted for 13.7% lower levels of employee commitment. (Lauricella, 2022)
Our mental and physical health is suffering.
Scholars have demonstrated that belonging is a predictor of mental well-being, and when we don’t feel we belong, it can cause depression. (Kondonijakos et al 2021)
Both before and during COVID, isolation has been associated with increased levels of stress and depression in the workplace, and has contributed to poor well-being, including worker exhaustion and psychological distress. (Van Zoonen, 2022) Researchers have found that human physical and psychological well-being depends heavily on interpersonal relationships and that employees who feel a strong sense of belonging take 75% fewer sick days. (Kondonijakos, 2021)
We are disengaged and burnt out.
Gallup (2022) reports that only 21% of employees are fully engaged in their workplaces. This comes at a high cost for companies, because disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity, and 15% lower profitability. They also quit at a higher rate than engaged employees. (Gallup 2017)
Our own Enboarder research in our “People Insights Report 2021” shows that 67% of hybrid workers have used “burnt out” to describe work in the preceding year, as have 45% of work-from-home workers and 53% of office-based employees. That same report found that 69% of employees don’t currently feel a very strong sense of connection to their co-workers. (Enboarder, 2021)
We are uprooting and searching for a better fit.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021. Over a million Australian workers found and started new jobs between November 2021 and February 2022, according to the Treasury. In fact, there were record numbers of quits in 2021 around the world, including the U.K. and France. All indicators show that this trend is not going away any time soon, and that doesn’t even account for the employees who are “quiet quitting” and simply failing to engage. By contrast, research shows that employees with a strong sense of belonging have a 50% reduction in turnover risk – and a 56% increase in performance. (Kondonijakos, 2021)
We feel excluded and set up to fail.
Many workers feel out of step and unaligned with their organizations. This comes in part from poor communication or lack of transparency. It also comes from unwritten rules. Researchers have shown employees feel disconnected from their companies due to a lack of transparency which contributes to a sense of not belonging. Disconnected participants also said that the company pushed too many priorities and, as a result, they felt like they could not succeed. Another study noted that the presence of “unwritten rules” or implicit expectations that employees aren’t clued into will reduce their sense of belonging. (Kondonijakos, 2021)
Now that you know some of the top problems associated with disconnection, you can take steps to do something about it in your organization. Start with this e-book on “5 Simple Ways Companies Can Build More Human Connection at Work.”