Your Loneliness Is Hurting Your Job Performance
12:15 pm, May 17th | by Sarah Devlin and Colette McIntyre
Colette: Um…..should we talk about loneliness?
How lonely are you, on a scale of 1 – 10?
Colette: Um, have you seen me and how ADORABLE I am? I am at a ZERO; I got people calling me, beeping me, when they wanna reach me, when they wanna page me, it’s ok, etc. And yes I did just use lyrics from the Kim Possible theme song to describe my popularity. But #RealTalk, the other night I was wallowing in a playing-a-lot-of-Fiona-Apple-and-watching-the-Oxygen-Network kind of loneliness. I live with my sibz and they both have significant others who are over, all the time, snuggling with them and calling them adorable things. So despite being in an apartment full of people, I was pretty darn lonely. YOU GET ME, SINGLE LADIES?
Colette: So maybe a 3? Whatever the “can someone just hold my hand” level of loneliness is.
Sarah: Well, that TNR feature on loneliness kind of made the rounds the other day, and I was struck by it because it talked a lot about how loneliness is caused by a lack of intimacy. And I can’t help but feel that the hyperconnectedness/ever-expanding work day and work week are probably contributing to that.
Colette: Right — we (the royal we) frankly don’t have time to foster relationships or do the sort of casual hanging that combats real, deep-seated (and evidently dangerous) loneliness. We think that sending a text or G-chatting with someone for an hour is connecting…and I don’t think it is. While the TNR piece didn’t say whether texts or emails could offset the interior, subjective experience of loneliness, I remember reading a study a little while ago about how phone calls with the subjects’ mothers had a psychologically soothing effect that texts, voicemails, and emails simply did not.
Sarah: Weeeeelll, I’m going to disagree with you about some of that. I think that G-chat and texts do have the potential for intimacy. I’m referring to the white noise of email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc. — social interactions that aren’t sustained conversations between two people. I think that for a lot of people the internet has given them a chance to deepen relationships with people who are far away or otherwise inaccessible. I think it’s totally possible to have intimacy with someone else online. I don’t think it’s easy to do given all the other crap that’s clogging up the day/internet.
Colette: Well, if it’s an either/or situation — either you connect online or you don’t interact at all — obviously social media or what have you is preferable to nothing. I found the study and apparently, while a phone conversation with one’s mother was just as comforting as a hug — both resulted in a drop in cortisol, a hormone linked to stress, and a rise in the pleasure-causing hormone oxytocin — girls who used IM didn’t experience such a change. The online contact was barely different from not communicating at all. I just don’t think that Internet interaction is a substitute for in-person or over-the-phone interaction, but believe me, I understand that we are all busy and can only fit in so many phone calls and drinks and dinners a day. Believe me…just ask my mom.
Well, let’s bring this back to work. Do you think the cult of busyness is contributing to all this loneliness? After all, tough to connect with loved ones if you have three jobs.
Colette: Oh, undoubtedly! We aren’t giving priority to things like catching up with friends or going on dates or, you know, BEING A PERSON IN THE WORLD. We don’t realize how significant and valuable socializing is.
Loneliness is inextricably tied to our work lives. I mean, not that this should be one’s biggest incentive to going out and spending time with people, but loneliness reduces an employee’s productivity. Decreased cooperativeness, increased hostility — these are characteristics of a poor employee and symptoms of a lonely one.
Sarah: Right. I don’t understand people who think the ideal employee is married to their work, because I think everyone needs to be able to recharge. At any rate, I think that the TNR piece focused a bit too much on — let’s call it “personality based loneliness,” which has to do with how people are raised and so on — and less on kind of “modern life-induced loneliness.” I don’t think it’s right to go ahead and get on the “BLAME THE INTERNET” train, but I really do believe the “kill yourself to get ahead at work” model that’s creeping into so many professions is a real factor.
Colette: Also, when the piece mentioned how “the outsiders”/”the different” are the lonely, I couldn’t help but think of all of the women who are in high-powered positons or in male-dominated fields and are the only women in their offices or meetings. I can’t imagine how estranged these women must feel from the co-workers, how isolating and ostracizing that atmosphere can be. While the TNR author stated that women are lonelier than men and the less educated are lonelier than the better educated, I wonder how lonely high-powered women are.
Sarah: Hm…I wonder that too, except we’re seeing so many high-powered women who are able to do things like build nurseries in their offices and have four day work weeks. I think that the top is actually great because you’re able to create so much more balance for yourself. I’m thinking more about people who are taking multiple jobs to get by or who are hustling at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder and playing an endless game of “stay later than the boss, be up earlier than anyone else to answer emails.” Because when the high powered women of today came up they worked their tails off but no one was emailing them into the wee hours of the morning, because the Internet hadn’t been invented by Al Gore yet. #History #Herstory
Colette: Ha, right. I wasn’t implying that ladies of the upper echelon are lonely because they don’t have time for real relationships, like us plebeians do, but I imagine that they may suffer from a different kind of loneliness, one built into the fabric of the organization due to a little thing call SEXISM. (DUM DUM DUM!) Regular Jane Sixpacks, like you and I, are already wreaking havoc on our brains and bodies with our 22-hour work days and the distrust, fear, and anxiety that comes with working in an economic downturn. It’s no surprise that we are inviting loneliness to come on in and do the same.
Sarah: True! Any ideas for how to fix?
Colette: I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO ASK! HERE’S MY BULLETED LIST:
You just have to remind yourself that you are worth your time and create a schedule that reflects that. Adult playdates, y’all: I’ve been doing it for years and I am self-admittedly only on Loneliness Level 3! (THAT’S GOOD, RIGHT?)
Colette: Even if you are a crazy banana and answering emails and creating charts and graphs all Friday night, at least put a friend on speakerphone and talk about cute boys’ butts while you are doing it. Your resume says you can multitask, now prove it!
Sarah: Yes! And maybe feel less guilty about cutting out social events that don’t make you feel great in favor of spending your time/energy with people who will recharge you and make you feel good. Like, if work happy hour is exhausting, don’t go!
Colette: Yeah! That’s not flaky, that’s prioritizing!
Sarah: YES! I hate the accusation of “flaking” because I think it’s so seldom true. If you are exhausted and don’t want to go to a party, don’t let anyone let you feel guilty about not doing it!
Colette: Word! Show the haters the door.