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I Miss You! A Well-Being Crisis on the Horizon

human interaction-inspiring workplaces-pandemic-mental health-social interaction
human interaction-inspiring workplaces-pandemic-mental health-social interaction

In a recent global study conducted by The Inspiring Workplaces Group, it was discovered that we not only miss human interaction at work, but we actually need it.

When asked “Since Feb 2020, do you miss human interaction in the workplace with colleagues or customers?” 41 percent responded they missed and needed it, 40 percent said they missed it, and only 7 percent said they don’t miss it at all.

That’s 81 percent of us having something we miss or find essential being reduced dramatically or removed altogether due to the pandemic. For many, it won’t return.

For the record, I founded Inspiring Workplaces as a fully remote organization. It has taken years to create the boundaries and process to make it work. People have been hired with that expectation firmly set ahead of time. Millions of organizations have not had that luxury. They had to do it overnight and have been constantly playing catch-up ever since.  

The new silent stigma

Now don’t get me wrong, the pandemic drove decades’ worth of positive change in just a few months — changes I have been campaigning in favor of for years. However, they were born out of necessity. These positive changes include CEOs trusting their people to work from home, giving them the tools to do so, realizing productivity is more important than presenteeism, smashing the stigma around mental health, less commuting, more time with family, and more money in people’s pockets.

I am not suggesting for a minute that I want to reverse all of these changes or return to the office five days a week, but we must find a balance. I believe people are staying quiet on wanting to return to the workplace — mute on needing that social interaction. Are we creating another silent stigma?

They are staying quiet as it is seen as unpopular on social media. Some are happier at home with family, some have bigger houses, and some have a more professional setup, whereas others may no family or are working out of a bedroom 24/7.

My main driver is this though — whoever you are, regardless of your social standing or salary, human interaction is vital for our well-being. Therefore, if we don’t have it, we will be creating a negative impact on millions of people’s health all over the United States. If that isn’t enough of a reason, then from a business perspective we will be creating a huge pent-up productivity timebomb. Whatever your drivers, we need to be responsible and act now.

Socializing for health

Jane E. Brody, in her New York Times article “Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health,” cited a review of research indicating that “social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.”

People who are chronically lacking in social contacts are more likely to experience elevated levels of stress and inflammation. These, in turn, can undermine the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain. Even how genes are expressed can be adversely affected, impairing the body’s ability to turn off inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and even suicide attempts.

Dr. Emma Seppala of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of the 2016 book “The Happiness Track,” wrote, “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.

“In other words,” Dr. Seppala explains, “social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being.”

It’s time to evolve our workplace well-being strategy. Start a conversation with your people immediately, share the facts, build trust, become an enabler of social interaction, and find a path forward together.

Be inspired.

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