Four ways today's teams are making us lonely

They say it's lonely at the top. But in the workplace, even team members are feeling lonely.

Published Fri, May 7, 2021 · 05:50 AM

FIRMS should see loneliness as an organisational issue, not a personal one. Aside from being associated with an array of health problems, loneliness reduces work performance and creativity. It also turns employees into poor decision makers. Firms with lonely employees can ill afford to ignore the problem. Especially when the problem is due in large part to the way teams are designed.

Through our executive education and consulting work, we had the opportunity to conduct two research studies on the link between social isolation and team design. We ran our first survey, which involved 223 global executives and managers, in December 2019 and January 2020, well before the pandemic-triggered a shift to work from home. The results surprised us. Even though these executives were part of an average of three teams at the time, 76 per cent said they struggled to make connections with their teammates. More than half felt that their social relationships at work were superficial.

In April 2020, we sampled a different group of 275 global executives. Nearly three quarters of them were part of at least two teams. One fifth belonged to five teams or more. As work from home had started for most, feelings of loneliness and social isolation were common. But the findings of our first survey made one thing clear: Solving the problem wasn't a matter of waiting for in-office work to resume. The pandemic merely highlighted issues brought about by work environments that have drastically changed in the last 30 years.


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