Are You Lonely?

We rarely think of the workplace as a lonely place. Yet feelings of loneliness can occur at any time, wherever we are in our careers. Workplace surveys often confirm the executive adage “It’s lonely at the top,” and the workforce for all employees can be isolating. Dating back to 1981, Professors Perlman and Peplau, in their campaign to end loneliness, defined loneliness as a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship, which happens when there is a mismatch between the quantity and quality of the social relationships that we have and what we want. Dr. Vivek Murthy, our current US Surgeon General, who was raised in Miami, has a book he wrote called “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World”, which speaks to this topic in the workplace.

Psychological Distress

The psychological definition of loneliness is a distressing feeling that accompanies the perception that one’s social needs are not being met by the quantity or especially the quality of one’s social relationships.

Facing Adversity

This week my first book arrived hot off the press for my first book signing. Writing a book was one of the most challenging endeavors of my life. Yes, I have been writing a blog for over a decade, and the subject matter for the book fit within my acquired expertise, yet the differences between writing a blog and a book are vast. Understanding the process and meeting the publisher’s deadlines and expectations, among my other responsibilities, was sometimes overwhelming. Not to mention writing a product that would help people in the workforce with “sound career advice,” providing reality to the many misperceptions that plague career building today.

Personal Growth

This weekend, I reread my book while reflecting on the moments I felt alone writing it. Looking back, I recognized that the perseverance to move forward in those lonely moments of despair by looking up and within gave me strength and peace. I also grew personally and professionally. Actress Ellen Burstyn said,

“What a lovely surprise to discover how unlonely being alone can be.” We are never alone, even when we feel that way. We are overwhelmed, insulated, and sometimes tired.

Work Isolation

When can you feel all alone in the workplace?

  • When everyone else is on board to move in a certain direction, and you are not in agreement.
  • When co-workers are socializing/collaborating with one another, and you are not part of the conversation.
  • When you don’t clearly understand your responsibility or the expectation behind it.
  • When associates you used to be close with leave the company.
  • When a project is new and overwhelming to you.
  • When you have a personal matter that you are keeping to yourself.
  • When you work purely remotely, especially if others are hybrid or in office.
  • When you are failing at your responsibilities.
  • When you are criticized.
  • When you feel taken advantage of.

And more…

Developing Resilience

What do you do when workplace feelings of loneliness set in? According to HR Magazine, the ability to develop individual resilience is key. It says that individual resilience is the ability to:

  • bounce back from difficult circumstances;
  • thrive in the face of adversity;
  • perform effectively under pressure;
  • adapt to sudden change;
  • manage overall health and well-being;
  • cope with emotional upheaval; and
  • achieve good outcomes despite serious threats to adaptation or development.

Coping Mechanisms

To develop individual resilience, try some of these things:

  • Do something kind-hearted. This could be as simple as offering help.
  • Take the first step to making a friend. Feeling isolated can mean you don’t feel socially connected to anyone at work, often because you are waiting to be approached instead of making the offer to connect.
  • Help others get to know you—for example, share pictures of your personal life.
  • Ask your supervisor for advice. They may know something that will help you connect.
  • Invite co-workers to lunch to get to know them better.


Loneliness in the Movies

An article from Prevention Magazine shares quotes on loneliness from various movies:

  • “There is nothing more lonely or terrifying than feeling unheard.”—House of Cards
  • “They judge me before they even know me. That’s why I’m better off alone.”—Shrek
  • “6:30, dinner with me. I can’t cancel that again.”—How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • “The journey’s a lonely one. So much more than we know.”—Kung Fu Panda
  • “People think I’m odd, so I know how it feels to be different, and I know how lonely that can be.”—Beauty and the Beast
  • “You can leave. I’ll remember you. I remember everyone that leaves.”—Lilo and Stitch

In each of these shows, the happy ending comes when they each take time to look within themselves and work on developing, with time, individual resilience. They did so by opening their hearts and minds to what could be and not to momentary feelings.

When you feel lonely at work, remember, “A season of loneliness and isolation is when the caterpillar gets its wings.” And if you need someone to talk to, we are a phone call away.

You Are Never Alone,

Suzanne Breistol


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