Recently, I’ve sensed more people feel lonely and left out at work. With years of layoffs, those who remain carry greater workloads. This crowds out time to connect with colleagues. Managers are also stretched and have less time to connect with the people they are responsible for leading. When I ask people at the seminars I teach which element of a Connection Culture — Vision, Value or Voice — they would like to increase in their workplace culture, it’s nearly always Voice. One result of this is that there has been a decline of connection, community and the spirit of unity in organizations.
Another result is that more people are struggling. Perhaps this is why Americans under 50 now have the lowest life expectancy among people in a peer group of 17 wealthy nations according to a new report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine. The report, sub-titled “Shorter Lives, Poorer Health,” found America was the worst or next to worst when it came to alcoholism, drug use, sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDs, obesity and diabetes, heart and lung disease, and homicide. Each item on this list is frequently related to chronic loneliness and social pain. When people feel lonely and left out it triggers feelings that make them want to connect with others. If their desires to connect are thwarted, it leads to an emotional and cognitive downward spiral. They become more aggressive, more impulsive and less rational. To ease the stress and pain they feel, many develop addictions to alcohol, legal and illegal substances, binge eating, sexual promiscuity and pornography.
John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, has done a great deal of research on this topic and he wrote a book I highly recommend entitled Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. Recently, I spoke with Dr. Cacioppo about the new center for connection I’m co-founding at TCU and my hope to bring him to campus to share his pioneering research and insights. You can learn more about his work by watching a lecture and Q&A he gave at Cornell.
In future posts, I’ll go deeper into this topic and recommend what leaders can do to create a Connection Culture that helps people flourish by increasing connection, community and a spirit of unity in organizational cultures. (Just fyi, here is an an article I wrote entitled “Creating a Life-Giving ‘Connection Culture’ in Health Care Organizations.” The article recently appeared in Becker’s Hospital Review.)