Fighting workplace loneliness with real connections

Hinge combats workplace loneliness by fostering real connections in team meetings, addressing a growing issue

Fighting workplace loneliness with real connections

Twice each month, executives at the dating app company Hinge gather for a team meeting; instead of discussing metrics or revenue, they start by talking about personal matters.   

According to The Canadian Press, for the first 30 minutes of the two-hour meeting, coworkers share their hopes and anxieties, discussing what they worry about, what they are grateful for, and what they are feeling.  

Even in a company focused on connecting people, building real relationships at work takes effort, said Hinge CEO Justin McLeod at the South by Southwest conference earlier this year. He co-presented with Ann Shoket, whose initiative to combat workplace loneliness is called “10 Minutes to Togetherness.”   

As America faces what Surgeon General Vivek Murthy described as a “loneliness epidemic”, employers and employees are addressing the lack of real friendships at work.    

The problem of loneliness has been growing for decades; Robert Putnam documented it in his book ‘Bowling Alone’ nearly a quarter-century ago.  

Remote work has intensified the problem for both extroverts and introverts, says leadership expert Michael Bungay Stanier, author of ‘How to Work with (Almost) Anyone.’   

“People have this desire to be seen and be heard,” Bungay Stanier says, but on video calls, the group gets right to business, reducing people to “little heads in squares.” It is difficult to talk about this lack of friendship at work because it feels like a shameful confession, he says, but his clients are starting to discuss it.   

These conversations are worth having, according to psychology professor Laurie Santos, creator of Yale University’s class ‘The Science of Well Being.’    

In her presentation at South by Southwest, Santos cited research showing that workplace friendships and a sense of belonging are vital to employees’ happiness and companies’ success.   

We assume that friendships at work are “a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have,” she said. But the lack of workplace connections might be why “quiet quitting” seems appealing, as we are not investing in what matters most for happiness at work — our connection with others.   

Some companies began focusing on employee health before the pandemic, often addressing the physical aspect by adding a gym or serving healthier food.  

Today, more employers are looking to enhance people’s overall well-being, says Suzanne Heidelberger, who has managed real-estate properties for global companies like American Express and Fidelity Investments.   

For example, employers might:   

  • Rethink physical spaces with relationships in mind, adding staircases to encourage “casual collisions” and transforming green rooftops into gathering spaces. 

  • Create groups and events to help employees find friends with shared interests, such as ice cream socials for dog lovers. 

  • Offer online gatherings, like American Express’s online cooking classes during the pandemic. 

What employees can do   

Employees are also seeking answers on their own, says executive coach Daniel Boscaljon, founder of the Healthy Relationship Academy. Despite craving relationships, many people lack strong interpersonal skills.   

One key is to work on one’s well-being, he says. “You can’t have a work personality and a home personality,” he says. “Who you are as a whole person shows up in every place that you’re in.”   

Another strategy is to communicate with coworkers about how to best work together before starting a project, says Bungay Stanier. Discussing small habits and preferences beforehand helps avoid making small rips in the fabric of a relationship that can prevent friendships from forming.   

Remember the importance of everyday greetings at work, Bungay Stanier says. A simple hello could be the beginning of the end of loneliness.