Connecting at work

Are you sick of working on your own? One of the potential occupational hazards of self-employment is isolation, especially for sole traders.

Although working alone without distractions may feel like a sanctuary at times, for many small business owners the lack of camaraderie of colleagues day-to-day can lead to a sense of loneliness.

The loneliness of working out of home and lack of social contact at work is a major challenge. Social isolation is a real problem

Monique, Freelancer

When you’re putting all your time and energy into your business, loneliness can creep up on you, so it’s important to be proactive to avoid social isolation and stop loneliness from becoming a habit.

Isolation, loneliness and health

Low levels of social connection can impact negatively on our mental wellbeing, making us more prone to mental illness such as depression, social anxiety, and suicide. In a recent small business survey, the people who perceived their work isolation as a stressor, scored higher on both depression and anxiety scales.

Social isolation and loneliness are increasingly being recognised for their impact on our physical health, with a recent review finding that low levels of social connection is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

But loneliness doesn’t have to be an inevitability if you work on your own. The key is connecting to others in a meaningful way within your everyday work routine.

Tips for combatting isolation and loneliness in business

  • Kick start your day with a conversation: Make your business calls first thing in the morning so you’re connecting with life outside your immediate work space.
  • Chat to customers and suppliers: Broaden the conversation beyond business with customers and suppliers. This not only benefits your health and wellbeing, it can also build stronger business relationships.
  • Schedule in a lunch break and get out of the house: Leave your home office or job site for lunch. Meet up with a friend or colleague, strike up a conversation with a neighbour or the local café owner. One of the benefits of business ownership is that you have the autonomy to build a weekly work routine that suits your needs.
  • Work in a shared space: Joining a co-working space, co-letting an office with other business owners, or working from a café for a couple of hours will immediately reduce social isolation. Decide how many hours it suits you to share your work space, so you get the benefits of both working alone and with others within your working week.
  • Build a professional support network: Having a mentor or other business peers you can call for advice or just a general catch up can be invaluable, especially if you miss the camaraderie of colleagues.
  • Attend business networking events: Join your local business chamber or business enterprise centre and schedule in time to attend their networking events, especially during traditionally quiet times of the year.
  • Be proactive about catching up with friends outside of business hours: If you’re struggling with a lack of social interaction at work, it may be important to compensate with a richer social life outside of the business. Initiate regular catch-ups with friends after work instead of binge-watching Netflix.

Reaching out

If you’ve tried several activities to incorporate connection into your work routine, but still find yourself struggling with feelings of loneliness, it may be helpful to talk to an expert.

Make an appointment with your GP and discuss your options, such as a referral to a psychologist.

Although this may seem like a big step, part of resilience is knowing when to ask for help. The sooner you act the more likely you will prevent a deterioration in your mental health.

For further information and links:

TEDx talk

John Cacioppo discusses the lethality of loneliness.

TEDx talk

Baya Voce discusses her simple cure for loneliness and what you can do to start creating more happiness, fulfillment, and connection.

Australian Coalition to End Loneliness

A coalition of agencies, not-for-profits and research institutions working to address loneliness and physical isolation through evidence-based interventions and advocacy.

Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad’s Public Lecture: Loneliness: a 21st Century Challenge

Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad discusses the issues surrounding loneliness, how it affects us and what we as a society can do about it.

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