Fostering Friendship

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Everyone wants to be healthier. We try out new diets; join the latest fitness craze; take vitamin supplements. But what if there were a way to get and stay healthy that didn’t involve getting sweaty or being hungry? An approach that has been shown to be twice as effective as exercise, and the equivalent of quitting smoking in preventing early death? What is this remarkable way to ward off disease and live longer? My friends, it’s friends.

Research has shown that there’s an association between being lonely and/or isolated and many health problems—and people are starting to take notice. Ask Great Britain, which appointed a minister for loneliness in January 2018. The UK sees loneliness as a significant problem affecting the young, the old, and those in between.

Health problems such as sleep disorders, heart disease, diabetes, and substance abuse have been associated with isolation, as are mental health issues like depression and suicide. Feeling lonely may also affect how your body processes stress hormones and may reduce your ability to cope with different obstacles and challenges. Moreover, maintaining a healthier lifestyle such as eating well, getting physical activity, and seeing the doctor tend to be easier when you have social support.

While much of the research on loneliness focuses on the elderly, people of working age also experience considerable amounts of loneliness. Loneliness in the workplace has been shown to reduce productivity and creativity. It also clouds decision-making. Here are a few ideas that can help your company counter the loneliness epidemic.

  • Start by assessing your company’s culture. Evaluate the quality of social relationships between colleagues. Do people tend to work alone? How is the office layout set up? Where do people eat their lunch?
  • Yet another study shows the role of having strong connections with coworkers in preventing absenteeism and producing high-quality work. But connections with coworkers don’t always happen organically. Encourage connection by creating opportunities for it, such as lunch outings or group volunteer projects.
  • Set aside time to discuss life outside of work. Our workdays don’t always naturally allow for open conversation about our personal life, so encourage it. Building connection can build a more productive team. Coworkers who know each other will be there to provide support during times of personal hardship that may temporarily affect work.
  • Set up the office to encourage conversation. Open floor plans, appealing break rooms, and group work areas can all foster social interaction. But keep in mind that social burnout can be the other side of the coin, so make sure to create places for team and individual privacy alongside spaces meant to foster social connection.
  • Isolation and loneliness can stem from office bullying or gossip. Here are four techniques to prevent office gossip.

Creating a socially connected environment should be a priority for any company. Just as it’s bad for our health, loneliness is also bad for business.

Dana Lester has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.


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