The title of this piece to the readers will appear truly paradoxical. How much more bewildering can such a possibility be that a person who works along with several people in a division department and organisation should actually be filled and gripped with feelings of loneliness. The notion can be treated as an absurdity of thought. Readers, may trust this scribe, that he has been witness, that indeed many individuals, who otherwise are part and parcel of a workforce, suffer from loneliness at the workplace. They are either by nature withdrawn and essentially introverts; or it can be for reasons, (and chiefly this is the reason) that the organisation does not promote togetherness. The senior management or leadership in such entities believe in the concept of divide and manage.
There are entities where the workforce is disengaged with the objectives and creed of the institution. Such persons are not necessarily ill-intentioned, when not being in harmony with the operating style of the organisation. They differ in their views, but choose to remain silent. They are a huge cauldron, where dissent keeps simmering but lacks courage to brim over into the open. Such, just do not embrace the manner and conduct of the operating environment. They are not necessarily negative.
There was one honest, down to earth, calm but highly disengaged person at a branch I used to work at in my initial years---he was ruthlessly aloof and reticent. Appearance wise he seemed sad with heavy dosage of melancholy attending his otherwise limited expression. No joy emanates from a lonely person. In a jovial and light hearted manner, most colleagues referred to him, as an individual who feels “homesick”, once he reaches office in the morning.
In your office environment, look around, there would be several colleagues rushing from one meeting to another; they will have their diaries filled with appointments, done most colourfully in different inks, qualifying either the importance or lack of it, for the meet ups, yet in their moments, which are not, far and few, but many they are the ones most likely to feel the impact of corporate loneliness. The schedule such managers’ make leads to detachment and dis-engagement with the larger circle of colleagues. The lack of interaction beyond the executive committee members poses the most difficult challenge, which if unattended over time becomes the most proximate cause of feeling lonely.
Senior management members to prevent themselves from feelings of the misery of loneliness likely to afflict them amidst a sea of humans, must find ways to set aside time for themselves ---- to think, to ponder, to introspect, that will lead them to design business options for the future; for enhancement and growth. Their crowded diary gasps for a breath of fresh air. Extremely tight schedules are fetters to openness of mind.
The oft-quoted, mostly laced with sentiments of being the victim, is the corporate slogan, “it is lonely at the top”. This is a myth---- which must be busted in the bud. The myth is not about the statement being untrue, but that it belies reality ---- loneliness is not merely at the apex of the organisation, but it pervades and is experienced at almost all levels of the hierarchy.
This premise of thought is not delusional, for in reality it is potently paralytic. Those who suffer from suppression at the hand of their supervisors normally remain consigned within the shell of their own making. The development of such emotions by no means are paradisal for the sufferers. The managers / leaders must possess extra sensory perception to pick up signs within the team, and hence must rush to mitigate, palliate and blunt, the growth of such epidemic sentiment, which left unattended can spread at a speed greater than the currently deadly Covid-19, virus.
Disengagement of staff is the major corporate virus; however, unlike Covid, there are management vaccines available to the leader to palisade its spreading. An engaged manager knows what method or tool, must be deployed to pull out colleagues, who are experiencing loneliness at office.
Leaders also suffer from loneliness, because of the office they occupy---- the real or perceived power distances them from their teams. The persistence of this sentiment can lead ultimately to development of lack of trust between the leader and the led. This inadequacy of trust graduates strongly and gnawingly at the roots of relationships, causing creation of room, for getting suspicious about all those who surround the leader / manger. This malaise is found more in the political world than corporate, but to think and suggest that it doesn’t exist at all in business entities will be a travesty of truth.
Organisations that have an environment, which is tedious, uninspiring, insipid, boring and dull promote the development of a loathsome corporate culture. “No one would choose a friendless existence on the condition of having all other things in life.” (Aristotle).
Lincoln, one of the finest President US has produced ever, suffered from major bouts of loneliness, as did JF Kennedy almost a century later, again he is counted amongst the last president of US to have said something profound. JFK used to be in and out of hospitals, during his teen years--- hence the loneliness (Readers may forget Marilyn Monroe for a while!)
Lincoln being a man made of steel, and being possessed with a resolute determination to have his name inscribed in gold on the pages of history, used loneliness to studiously improve himself. His slogan then was, “work, work and work”. JFK, on the other hand was adventurously flirtatious, to keep in check recurring bouts of illness and isolation. It is always favourable that the one mouth should be used less and the two ears must remain deployed as ‘active’ all the time; but it is also equally important for workers not to stifle or muzzle expression and stand pulverised by remaining silent, especially when it is imperative to say, what must be said. Holding back expression is one major cause of loneliness, too.
Listening continuously to the echoes of the inner voice is mostly painful, unless the sound bites are inspirational in content and nature. In loneliness, one will find only that of what one takes there, nothing improves in a state of solitude that has negativism at its base. The lonely worker is a major repository of unimaginable fountains of anxieties. In a mental state of solitude and isolation, even sitting within a nest of desks, the lonely colleague is eaten up by himself. A lonely man is either a beast or an angel. Loneliness is their choice for company.
Theodore Roosevelt, another US President of standing, lost within twenty four hours, his 49 year old mother and his young wife -- he became lonely and forlorn. The sadness on his face that appeared on that fateful night, remained unchanged all his life--- yet he sought no sympathy, instead immersed himself to work, and only work, besides attending to bringing up his new born baby girl. Not many can manage to convert loneliness as a stepping stone to performing the extraordinary.
Corporate life is a beehive, that we enter by the same door but live in different cells (I have here altered an African proverb). Those managers who remain oblivious to the state of their colleagues, especially those disengaged and lonely, are the major promoters of mediocrity in the organisation. Left to languish in their lonely state many co-workers fall prey to accepting lack of growth, as a fait accompli, caused by nature. Nay, it is so untrue to pursue such a train of thought. Nature has blessed equally to all, with no bias or favour; it is the ability of ownself, coupled with available enabling environment (the leader ensures this) to extract out the best and unique talents one is bestowed with.
Managers with a heightened sense of empathy are quick to spot the “lone rangers” in their teams; they also hold hands to pull out the poor colleague from the dungeons of loneliness. An engaged workforce will never be gripped with a sense of loneliness. Distrust, suspicion, doubt are not conducive to the development of a cohesive, involved and engaged teams. “What loneliness is more than distrust?” (TS Eliott)
The writer is a banker and freelance columnist