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How to beat loneliness at work

Voco Team
Image of friendly people at work, laughing while sitting round a desk

Feeling lonely at work is more common than you might think. While on the surface it may look like we’re engaged and have strong relationships with our co-workers, often we feel that those relationships only exist at a surface level and actually we have very few people to turn to for support.

This sense of loneliness can strike at any time, from feelings of nervous isolation at the start of our careers or maybe after a move to somewhere new; to when we find ourselves in leadership roles and feel we have no one to turn to for help anymore. 

And loneliness can have profound impacts on both our physical and mental health, raising our levels of cortisol - the stress hormone - substantially, and potentially leading to depression or even increased risk of early mortality. 

While this might sound a bit alarmist, it’s actually not that surprising when you consider the vital role love and belonging (i.e. friendship and connection) plays within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; with only food, water and safety being more important. Having a trusted support system and strong connections with others is key to how we maintain our mental well-being, lowering our levels of anxiety and depression, as well as preserving our physical health by strengthening our immune systems.

That’s because our brains are hardwired to seek connection with others and to share knowledge with them. According to neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman “when we are first taking in new information, part of what we do is consider whom we can share information with and how we can share it in a compelling way.” 

In fact, forming connections around knowledge sharing is crucial to building our self-esteem and self-worth; we are programmed to seek and share information with others in order to be recognised and accepted by them. This recognition in turn combats loneliness and isolation, and influences what we remember, how we learn and how we feel.

Why friendship at work matters

Connection and friendship at work also influences how well we perform. According to Gallup, we want to feel that the work we do is worthwhile, and having trusted supporters and confidants helps enhance that feeling for us; making us feel more engaged, and increasing our effort levels along the way. So when we have strong, meaningful friendships at work, we are more likely to perform well and be loyal to our employers. 

Building secure connections also helps to drive collaboration, when we seek to overcome problems and obstacles by working together with others. Having a trusted set of supporters to turn to, and workshop challenges with, can lead to breakthroughs and innovations that are hard to accomplish alone.

And collaborative cultures - where we feel truly empowered to share our ideas and opinions, and are subsequently recognised for them - help combat siloed thinking as well as loneliness and isolation. By engaging and connecting with others to solve problems, we learn from each other, sharing our expertise and surfacing new perspectives. 

Sharing risks and rewards

Collaboration, however, is about more than sharing knowledge for mutual benefit, and it also goes beyond the coordination and exchange of resources, or even cooperation to achieve a shared goal. True collaboration comes when we are clear that we care as much about the success of who we’re working with as we do about our own success, and vice versa. Put simply, we will happily share both the risks and rewards.

Not only does this build trust, it also increases morale as we all feel invested in the success of others. Ultimately, as Lieberman outlines, we’re wired to connect: to work with people we trust, who understand and respect our points of view, to share objectives with others, and to seek and exchange knowledge. Collaboration makes this possible.

How to connect and collaborate more effectively


We cannot expect trust, we have to encourage and nurture it. We must create an environment where collaboration is commonplace; where, in order to succeed, we are expected to share ideas and gain insight and input from others. An environment where this behaviour is valued as highly as our individual efforts. 

If we’re given both the permission and the opportunity to consistently prove our credibility and reliability, as well as the confidence that our colleagues and thinking partners have our best interests at heart; we can drop our defences and start to trust each other.


In order to truly connect, we need to understand each other. We can’t expect to build trusting relationships if we are unwilling to hear the point of view of others or share our own, honest , opinions. Communication that is guarded feeds our defensive nature and erodes trust. 

Collaboration is a democratic process and this means that we need to feel heard and understood when we share our views, even if these views challenge the opinions of others. And we need to be allowed to show vulnerability and not feel diminished by this.


Respect grows when our input is thoughtfully considered and valued. And where respect feels like a mutual exchange based on merit, not hierarchy. We can earn respect through our contributions, and come to respect others based on the positive exchanges we have. We bring a lot of ourselves to work and we expect - whether we realise it or not - the people we work with and the organisation we work within to show us the courtesy of recognising our efforts. 

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