By Martha Lee

When I started my first job at age 15, one of the pieces of advice my boss gave me was to be careful about becoming friends with the people I worked with. Friendships had the potential to get in the way of work, she warned me. I wasn’t quite sure how to make sense of this, especially since I was working with my sister at the time.

Her words stayed with me for a long time, but I mostly ignored them. And with no regrets whatsoever!

Today some my dearest friends are people I’ve worked with – or for – and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. While not every colleague became a friend, I feel fortunate to have cared about many of my co-workers. It made the work more interesting and the time pass quickly.

During college I worked at a Target store where I eventually ended up on the team responsible for keeping the shelves stocked. Most of the team was older than me, so we didn’t get together outside of work, but while at work, we took breaks together, learned about our lives outside of work and supported one another. These relationships helped reduce stress and made us more productive. We were consistently recognized as the most “Fast, Fun and Friendly” team in the store.

Many people are not so lucky. At a time when people from around the world are connecting through social media, workers in the U.S. are experiencing a loneliness epidemic.

In September 2017, the Harvard Business Review’s lead article was “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic: Reducing Isolation at Work Is Good for Business,” by Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy who served as the 19th Surgeon General during the Obama Administration. In the article, Dr. Murthy states that the isolation of workers costs billions in reduced productivity. He makes the case that when employees feel connected to their organization’s mission and their co-workers they produce higher-quality work.

He offers the following tips for creating connections:

  • Evaluate the current state of connections/relationships within your workplace.
  • Make developing relationships a strategic priority.
  • Build a shared understanding about what high quality relationships are.
  • Make it a habit to offer and accept help from colleagues.
  • Create opportunities to learn about your co-workers’ personal lives.

I’ve seen this in action throughout my career, and I don’t take it for granted. When we prioritize caring relationships in the workplace, we all do better and we do better work.

Questions to Consider

  • What are the causes for this loneliness epidemic?
  • How does this play out in your workplace?
  • How can you incorporate Murthy’s tips into your work life?

Further Reading

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