How to prevent loneliness at work

 

It’s not only tough at the top it can also be a lonely place as well. As managers climb up the career ladder there is sometimes an increasing feeling of isolation. Management involves having authority over other people and being responsible for difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions.

Added on 01 April 2014 by Roger Delves

How to prevent loneliness at work

It’s not only tough at the top it can also be a lonely place as well. As managers climb up the career ladder there is sometimes an increasing feeling of isolation. Management involves having authority over other people and being responsible for difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. This naturally changes the relationship the manager has with those people.

Of course it’s not just CEOs and other senior business executives who experience loneliness — it’s team managers entrepreneurs and community leaders too. This isn’t good for business as it can have a knock –on effect on decision-making culture and performance. The best leaders have trusted advisors who not only listen to concerns but also keep their ear to the ground can give it to them straight and challenge existing ways of doing things.

First consider:

  • Do you need close relationships at work? If so must they come from the people whom you manage or can this need be met by other colleagues?
  • What is it that you miss? Bouncing ideas off of people? Feeling included and involved? Being informed?
  • Do you feel well-connected to your team at work? Is there a sense of camaraderie and belonging within the team? What are the people or situations at work that you envy?
  • How does this sense of loneliness affect your performance?

Key Steps to overcome the issue:

Examine critically your own sense of loneliness

The first thing you need to do is consider what makes up your loneliness. What are you missing? This will help you develop a specific understanding of your loneliness. If your sense of loneliness is recent or if you can pinpoint when it started to develop look for what changed at around that time. Maybe new people joined the team or someone you really trusted left the team changing the team dynamic; maybe the organisation’s shape or structure changed; or maybe something changed for you at home. Try to identify the change that you can now associate with your growing feeling of loneliness. This will help you to decide how best to address that feeling.

Particularly if you’ve been promoted from within you may find that the relationship with the people who used to be your team-mates changes to something more formal and structured – the relationship between the manager and direct reports. You are no longer in a team with mates. You now know things you can’t share with them and they know things they won’t share with you. This is a difficult transition to manage both for the manager and for the team members.

Recognise your role’s potential for loneliness

Loneliness and a sense of isolation is something every manager experiences to some extent or another as their management career develops. If you’re not careful the circle of people you can trust and be open with gets smaller and smaller. If you’re in a leadership role you can guard against being isolated by making connection a priority. The trick is to look to source your friends from different places. Make friends with other managers across the organisation rather than try to do so with direct reports below you in the organisation. Deference and group think obstructs teams and chokes creativity – endeavour to find friends who will give honest feedback and also cover your back.

Build a pragmatic relationship with the people in your team

It’s clearly important that managers have good relationships with the team they manage and with the individuals within the team. The thing to remember is that the nature of the relationship between manager and team or manager and individuals is different in kind to the relationship between team members. This does not preclude the important need for the team to have a positive culture in which people including you feel involved engaged and valued. Managers can’t have favourites can’t exclude people can’t gossip can’t share information with some and not others – if you do any of these things you will find you rapidly lose the trust and respect of some or all of your team at which point you will certainly become isolated and potentially lonely. Managers need to be open and honest but always professional in their behaviour.

Be aware of how others see you

As your career develops you need to remember that the more senior you are and the more authority you have the more important you are in the lives of the people in the organisation. The more authority you have the harder it is for people to feel comfortable in a close relationship with you when they also have a reporting line to you.

Create and maintain a work/life balance

Make sure that your commitment to your career does not mean that you lose touch with friends outside of work. Make an effort to keep in touch with people whom you know like you and enjoy your company. Establish and maintain a network of friends who like you are professionals in a management role. These friends will understand the pressures you encounter will experience the same pressures themselves and are an invaluable source of support and objective advice.

Feelings of loneliness are important and should not be dismissed as isolation can have a detrimental effect on your management style and your organisation. Don’t let anxiety hamper your career or the performance of your team or organisation. Take steps to remedy your concerns. But remember if you want people to include and involve you you also have to include and involve them in what you do. Relationships are two way affairs.

Roger Delves is Director of the Masters in Management at Ashridge Business School and co-author of ‘The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast Solutions to Everyday Problems’.