Four Ways to Combat Loneliness on Your Team

A recent study by Cigna found that nearly half of Americans feel alone or left out. David M. Cordani, president and chief executive officer of Cigna, states, “We’re seeing a lack of human connection, which ultimately leads to a lack of vitality.”

In addition to lacking vitality, the medical establishment finds loneliness has the same effect on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In general, lonely people have poorer physical and mental health, sleep less or less well, and have weaker social skills than people who do not report high levels of loneliness. 

As a manager, what does that mean to you? Poor physical and mental health correlates to higher absenteeism. Lack of sleep leads to lower productivity and decreased attentiveness to tasks. And weaker social skills impede communication with internal and external customers. Like disengagement, loneliness can be dangerous to your team health. 

But connections, such as these, can help you combat loneliness:

  • Lunch-and-Learn mini-workshops: Encourage staff members to choose a job-related topic, learn about it, and share what they learn during lunchtime mini-workshops. This practice encourages growth and development while fostering social connections. Conducting these workshops over lunch feels more relaxed and sociable than during a formal team meeting.
  • Inter-team connections: Connect a staff member on your team with someone in a similar role on another team. Odds are, similar job roles have similar struggles, so employees may find they can offer support to one another. Inter-teaming also provides opportunities discover more about other teams or departments, which may foster additional growth and development.
  • Check in regularly: Schedule regular touch points with each member of your team. Weekly or biweekly scheduled time to meet with you helps each team member feel valued and important, but only if you keep each appointment—if you start canceling meetings, you communicate that the team member is less important than the task you’re canceling for. When you do meet, let team members drive the conversation by asking them to prepare topics—and then discuss them! If you drive the conversation based on your agenda, you break trust and damage the relationship with your team member.
  • Use probing questions: Questions that dig beneath the surface to encourage team members to share opinions and feelings help you learn more about them. And because you should be willing to answer anything you ask, team members will discover more about you!

In our Gillespie Nimble Build Trusting Relationships course, we encourage managers to use time during one-on-ones to ask and answer probing questions such as, “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this month/quarter/year?” These questions help build, strengthen, or repair your relationships and encourage connections with team members. To foster additional connections among employees, we suggest starting team meetings with probing questions such as, “How do you recharge?” By disclosing personal information in the group, team members may discover shared interests that foster deepening connections.

Encouraging connections and tamping down loneliness benefits everyone in your workspace. For more information on asking probing questions and suggestions on when and how to use them, download our Question Your Way to Trust guide.