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Leaders can tackle team loneliness with a simple code: 0.6-1-5

The world’s workplaces are growing lonelier — but the solution requires less than you might expect.
A group of business people tackling loneliness, shaking hands in front of a window.

Credit: saksit / Adobe Stock

Key Takeaways
  • Belonging is the gift your team needs, whether they know it or not.
  • Your team gathers for the same reasons as our ancestors: to stay safe and solve problems.
  • To address the looming threat of team loneliness make a commitment to fight for more belonging.
Excerpted from Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In by Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen (McGraw Hill, March 2022)

As a leader, you’ve probably wanted to disconnect from people. At times, the issues of the team seem too complex and daunting, and you’d rather kick them all off the bus and retreat into the wilderness on your own. 

That’s OK. You’re allowed to feel that way. Besides, solitude is healthy. Just don’t go too far. Your team needs you. And you need them. Together we heal. Together we perform better. Together we belong.

As Johann Hari writes in his book Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope, “Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people, . . . it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else.”

Did a promotion even happen if you didn’t share and celebrate it with someone? Eventually, the new office and team will make it real, but the achievement rings hollow without others involved. The highest of highs in life include people. The lowest of lows in life exclude people. 

Belonging is the gift your team needs, whether they know it or not. It’s also the gift your bottom line deserves. 

Loneliness isn’t a black eye, it’s a birthmark that we all have—one that comes in different shapes and sizes. Since we all have it, there’s no sense in hiding it. 

So, gather your team close and share in the struggle, vision, and wins together. Share your time, appreciation, and attention. Share to shed loneliness. 

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Wolves hunt more successfully in packs, penguins share warmth in huddles, fish swim in schools for protection, and birds migrate in flocks to conserve energy. Together animals accomplish more. The same is true for humans. 

Our ancient ancestors gathered together to stay safe from predators. Once they felt safe, they could redirect their efforts toward solving the next problem: in their case, being cold. Together they learned to control fire. Then on to the next problem. And so on. 

Together humanity has solved So. Many. Problems. We get to live in a world that’s better than it’s ever been, thanks to the problems solved by previous generations. 

Today your team gathers for the same reasons as our ancestors: to stay safe and solve problems—the problems of customers, clients, and users. And to stay safe from much different threats. They are no longer as obvious as weather, large animals, or disease, but inconspicuous threats, like loneliness, depression, and meaninglessness.

You as the leader are at the helm to address these new threats. Because if the team isn’t safe, they can’t readily solve the problem at hand, let alone the inevitable looming problems out in the not-so-distant future. The yoke of vision-casting, belonging-building, and action-spurring rests on the shoulders of leaders. 

But don’t fret. You’re now aware and equipped to address one of the biggest looming threats to your team: loneliness. To improve your team’s situation, you just need you. No sweeping change management initiative is needed. No management approval. No team buy-in. Just you making a commitment right here and right now to create more belonging among your team. 

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Your commitment can take as little as 0.6, 1, and 5. 

  • 0.6 minutes (or 40 seconds) is how long it takes for loneliness to lessen during a two-person interaction.
  • 1 person is the number of work friends it takes to feel less lonely.
  • 5 minutes is the amount of time it takes in a team meeting to share something personal.

Moving your team from isolated to all-in requires less than you might expect. What it does fully require is vigilance.

A consistent mentality of zero tolerance for a lonely workforce. Every person on your team is one person away from a stronger sense of belonging. Might you be that person to deliver for them? 

The world is growing lonelier. If we fail to fight for more belonging, we will continue to fracture apart. Instead of banding together to solve important problems, we’ll retreat into isolation growing ill, bitter, and unfulfilled. Building stronger communities and stronger companies will require action. Action from you. Action from me. Action from all of us. You can only control you, so start there. 

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