Loneliness. Are you feeling lonely?
Loneliness. Are you feeling lonely?

Are you lonely at work?

I read an article recently about a Netherlands supermarket chain, Jumbo, that have introduced a slow lane, or in Dutch, a Kletskassa. The idea is to provide greater social interaction for those customers who may be feeling a little lonely, where customers are given time to chat with the cashier.

Loneliness is an overwhelming emotion, and it often consumes the lives of many elderly people worldwide. In a measure to help them out of their loneliness, Jumbo have introduced these special checkout lanes where the elderly can stop and chat with the cashier.

Jumbo started their Kletskassa’s in one store and due to their popularity with both staff and customers, have now installed a Kletskassa in most of their stores.

This got me thinking about remote working.  Whilst it’s great for some people and some organisations to have work from home, do certain people feel the isolation (and perhaps loneliness) of not meeting with their colleagues, clients and others, face-to-face?

Before we look at whether it’s good and for whom, a point of definition of “loneliness” and “isolation” is required.

As one recent study reports, “Socially isolated people are not necessarily lonely. Loneliness is the painful feeling - or social pain - which results from a discrepancy between the quantity (e.g., number of social contacts per day) and/or the quality (referring to the subjective experience of characteristics such as affection, intimacy, or conflict) of their desired and actual social connections”.

So, socially isolated people can be either lonely or not? Who’s affected by isolation and who’s not?

The study also showed that loneliness is related to factors other than social isolation, including temporally stable characteristics of the individual and their environment such as personality traits, need for contact and expectations of relationships, physical and mental health, and cultural norms. These variables can explain why isolation does not affect everyone similarly. For example, an investigation of the German population showed that extraverted individuals reported greater increases in loneliness during the pandemic lockdown. Additionally, greater increases in loneliness were also experienced by women, younger, neurotic, and conscientious individuals.

If you’ve been feeling a little lonely whilst working remotely, you are not alone. A landmark study on loneliness in Australia showed that one in three people now experience a degree of loneliness.

And if you are experiencing some degree of loneliness, you may now also be considering what type of person you are or the situations that may be impacting your feeling of loneliness?  Of course, you will probably like to skip the ‘neurotic’ category, unless you’re feeling particularly negative towards work – however, it’s important to note that negativity has been correlated with neuroticism.  As an introvert, I know in my own case, I thrive on isolation (it’s when I do my best work).  However, I do find I need the social interaction with others (in short bursts, of course), to discuss my ideas and get the feedback and particularly the recognition that I crave.

Are you feeling a little isolated and/or lonely since working from home?

I’ve raised the issue here with the aim of getting your input and feedback so that we can make some considerations around the type of person best suited to work from home; the type of work; and the situations (including the organisational culture) that will happily support hybrid or work from home.

Watch this space!  And please contribute your ideas.


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