The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness is starting a conversation, quite literally, by distributing pins at London Tube stations with the phrase “happy to chat,” signaling that the wearer will talk to anyone who’s feeling isolated.
Jo Cox, a British politician, was murdered last year. The 41-year-old counted loneliness as one of her key issues, saying “Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate … it is something many of us could easily help with.” And she’s right.
While the Jo Cox Foundation is located in the U.K. (it’s estimated that more than 9 million Brits are always or often lonely), the issue is just as worrisome here at home. Experts believe that as many as 46% of Americans over 60 feel alone, and more and more scientists are investigating the “critical public health problem.”
The human body treats isolation as a threat, potentially explaining why lonely people act negatively toward others. Basically, it’s a vicious circle that can cause people to retreat even more. Where I see this in regard to employee engagement, is the responses disagree or strongly disagree to the statements, “I have a best friend at work,” or “There is someone at work who seems to care about me.”
A few simple things managers can do to bring more social connection into the workplace is by allowing for “play” during work time, adding an icebreaker or team building event at the beginning of staff meetings and simply taking time to walk around and strike up a conversation.
Although Salem is a long way from the nearest Tube station, there are still ways to help. Take the pin’s message to heart by reaching out to someone in need of a friendly ear. Strike up a conversation with a co-worker the next time you’re standing in line for coffee or to heat up your lunch. Greet someone with a hello and a smile who seems a little down. It might not feel natural at first and it may take a great deal of courage to do so, but it will make a difference for them and you.
If you would like help facilitating a team building exercise or icebreaker, feel welcome to contact me.