People Aren’t Tired, They’re Lonely

I’ve recently been invited to join a book club that is reading Brené Brown’s book, Dare To Lead. She shares a story in the book that has a very important message that was an aha! moment for me. DeDe Halfhill, a colonel in the United States Air Force, was in her first year commanding the 2nd Mission Support Group at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. One of her men raised his hand and said, “When is the ops tempo (current pace of operations) going to slow down because we’re really tired.” DeDe had recently read an article from Harvard Business Review that showed high levels of exhaustion were linked to high levels of loneliness, not the pace of operations. She shared the information from the article and then asked, “Who’s lonely?” At least half the room raised their hands.

Burnout in the workplace is more closely linked to loneliness. We think we’re tired and we want to withdraw but we’re actually lonely and missing social connection. We’re making it worse for ourselves by not connecting and not reaching out. A manager might say to someone, take time off, take some vacation. We are unknowingly sending the person off by themselves and possibly making the situation worse. An important question we should be asking is how are we providing opportunity for connection and inclusion on our teams?

According to the research in the article, the most important factor in work happiness is positive social relationships with co-workers. When we have connection with others, we feel valued, supported, respected and secure. The result of feeling socially connected means greater psychological well-being, which translates into higher productivity and performance. Science tells us that feelings of social connection can strengthen our immune system, lengthen our life and lower rates of anxiety and depression.

Three questions to reflect on:

  • How do we build relationships on our team/unit?
  • How do we reach out to others when we’re feeling alone?
  • How do we create a community of inclusion?

Isolating and siloing ourselves doesn’t help our team, the workplace or our mental health. I have heard people say, “I don’t need to make friends at work, I just do my job and go home.” Without that connection and inclusion, this is a sure way to burn out. Activities like Pecha Kucha are a great way to get your teams to open up and connect with each other and find commonalities and things they like about each other. It’s worth it to take the time to let people connect. As always, I’m happy to work with you and your teams. Don’t hesitate to reach out!

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