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Loneliness of the lone ranger worker

Maybe it is the relative quietness of mid-August in my business cycle, or that 2 recent Workplace reports caught my attention more than they would in the maelstrom of September and beyond, but recently I have been reflecting on Isolation in business.

It could also have something to do with a conversation with a friend of mine who pulled away from his CEO role in his very successful national business a while ago, retaining his majority shareholding.

He wanted to re-discover his family who, by his own admission, suffered as he built his business in the teeth of competition. He also wanted to get back to the passion that drove him to start his own business in the first place – investing in and supporting start-ups.

He is currently supporting a handful of start-ups and says that a big challenge – and therefore a large part of his support (beyond the investment) – is in helping his entrepreneurs maintain their motivation and momentum, especially when the going gets tough – even though they are working on their ‘dream’ or their ‘passion’.  And, yes, he also finds it tougher being home based than he did when he had a large team around him in his London office.

He is not alone … well he often is but here are many like him!

Over 4 million people work from home in the UK

According to a June 2014 ONS report 4.2 million people are now classified as homeworkers, people who work from a home base, rather than from a business building. That’s 14% of the UK working population, a significant chunk, which is projected to grow as technology drives enablement and competition drives costs.

The report also suggests that some of the highest skilled roles in the UK are, at least partially, home based.  Many organisations have highly skilled people in technical, professional, sales, support and managerial roles as home based. One of my banking clients had what they called ‘LIW’ staff – Location Independent Workers – including senior staff at ‘Regional Manager’ roles and above. You and I also know that many people who operate as solopreneurs, independent consultants or independently within network organisations who often work from home.

Working from home does present a multitude of challenges, as well as rewards. Maintaining momentum and motivation can be difficult when you are alone, particularly, I suspect if you are a corporate homeworking employee,  as opposed to an independent business owner. I know of at least one recent report where employees who took up the offer of homeworking reversed their decision at the first opportunity and swapped their kitchen table for their office cubical. I’m sure that loneliness and isolation played a part in that.

4 in 10 people report having no close friends at work

Relate have just published (12th August 2014) a report on relationships based upon a survey of over 5000 people,  one of the largest of its kind in the UK, called ‘The Way We Are now’

My interest is in the workplace relationships element of the report, simply because most of spend most of our waking time on work related activities.

Not surprisingly, the survey found that among full-time workers  contact with colleagues and bosses by far exceeds contact with many other family members. The report states that we’re about as likely to have daily contact with our colleagues (62%) as we are with our own children (64%), and much more likely to have daily contact with our bosses (44%) than with our mums (26%) or our friends (16%).

Whilst the survey report does not dive deep into the quality of these workplace relationships, we do know from other studies that the quality of our relationships with our boss and colleagues does impact our attitudes, our performance, our engagement and, ultimately, our wellbeing at work.

We also know that most people leave their boss rather than leave their job when they decide to earn their living elsewhere.

Getting back to my investigation of loneliness that many people face at work, the survey found that 42% of the people surveyed wouldn’t describe any colleague or boss as a close friend. That’s a lot of isolated people.

Yes, the majority of people (58%) had at least one close friend at work but that leaves a lot of people – 4 in 10 – disengaged on ‘friendship’ level. That number would be much higher, I suspect, if there was a survey of Homeworkers.

Obviously, ‘friendship relationships’ are on thing and ‘professional relationships’ are something else. The survey did find that that the majority of people are positive about their ‘working relationships’ with 70% describing their relationships with colleagues as good or very good.  Six in ten people even described their relationship with their boss as good or very good. Hurrah for good managers!

We know that the quality of our relationships impact the way we feel about ourselves. So whether we are soloists or managing people who are partially or wholly home based workers, we need to nurture that important sense of relationship, belonging and connection as well as getting on with the day-job. Speaking of which, back to business!

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