When was the last time you felt alone? Or more than alone - when was the last time you felt lonely? Loneliness can creep up in small ways: when you work alone and realise you haven’t looked another human being in the eye for four days straight; when you look online and see pictures of your friends hanging out without you; when you text with friends every day but can never find the time to meet up and have a proper heart to heart.
It’s the small things that can make us feel lonely but the effect can be profound. Recently, global health service company Cigna released the results of a US national survey which looked at the impact of loneliness, and some of the statistics are pretty shocking.
Around half of all Americans surveyed said they often felt alone, left out, isolated and that the relationships around them are not meaningful. Only half of respondents felt they had meaningful social interactions, such as quality time with friends, or a meaningful conversation, on a daily basis. And although only Americans were surveyed, there’s no reason to think that the United States would be markedly different from other countries.
So what does that mean? Well, loneliness, although clearly at an epidemic level, isn’t something that can only be tackled by the broad brushstrokes of government, although top-down initiatives are clearly useful, and right-thinking institutions should be doing what they can. But on the ground, today, next week, next month, if we’re going to have a go at taking loneliness off the table for those around us, we need to find something to fill the gaps that we see. That’s where community comes in.
21st-century society may be pervaded by loneliness, but it’s also fuelled by coffee. That’s why it has been so interesting to hear of changes brought about by two of the biggest coffee chains, Starbucks and Costa. Starbucks are making it clear that anyone can come and sit in their cafes, any time, and they don’t even have to make a purchase. And Costa Coffee, in the UK, have partnered with a charity named the Chatty Café, and are going to have tables designated as ‘chatter and natter tables’. If you sit there, it’s an indication that you’re willing to talk to whoever joins you. It’s a no-pressure way to turn strangers into friends, or at the very least, pass the time of day with someone else who could use a little bit of human connection.
Look around you, wherever you are right now. Around half of the people you see may well feel isolated, alone, rejected, or can go days where they don’t have a meaningful connection with any other person. Maybe, just maybe, you’re one of them.
In the spirit of tackling loneliness at the individual level, each of us could ask ourselves what we might do differently – because there are more lonely people in your organisation right now than you probably imagine. And little acts of humanity just might add up to a whole lot of good.
As the manager of a team what changes could you make to how you lead your team to ensure that nobody feels isolated, and that everyone feels the balm of human connection on a regular basis?
As a business leader, what could you do to foster a sense of community throughout your organisation? How do you make it clear that creating a sense of belonging and connection is going to be part of your strategy going forward, as much as innovation, technology and efficiency?
And as an individual, as full of aspirations and vulnerabilities as everyone else, what can you do? What can YOU do? It doesn’t have to be a world-changing innovation. It could be a small as changing how one person, colleague or friend feels about themselves and their current reality.
At Insights, we don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions. But we’re asking them. And that feels like a good starting place to us.
Lynne-Marie Howden is our Director of Marketing and Product. She has a passion for making sure that we provide a legendary experience to our customers at every turn. Learn more about Lynne-Marie here.