Reentering the IRL workplace after 18 months of working from home is proving to be quite the adjustment. Whether you’re back in an office five days a week, still set up at your remote workstation or are hopping about between different roles (you Gen Z multi-hyphenate, you), one thing’s for sure: the way we work has changed immeasurably thanks to the pandemic.
But one of these changes that no one’s really talking about is loneliness at work. A recent report found that workplace loneliness is affecting Gen Z at a higher rate than other demographers, with 1 in 4 Gen Zers feeling lonely at work and 44% admitting that they don’t have any friends at their job. Throw in the enforced WFH situation, and many people starting new contracts and joining teams they’ve never met IRL, and it’s no wonder workplace loneliness is taking a toll on our mental health.
Making new friends in your 20s and 30s is bloody hard work, here are 5 ways to do it (and be way less lonely as a result)
“While it is not essential to have friends at work, it is certainly a lot more pleasant when you do,” says chartered psychologist Dr Audrey Tang, author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience. “Research has found that work friends can become ‘communities of coping’ – people you can turn to at times of stress who really ‘get it’.”
This is important, Dr Tang notes, because it means our work friends can support us in career-related concerns with more nuanced advice than, say, our friends or partner, who may not understand our field as much.
“When you consider that we spend most of our day at work, and many people relocate on a project-by-project basis, work may be the one constant in which a friendship can be built,” Dr Tang adds.
But if you’re starting a new role or your social skills are a little rusty after 18 months of lockdowns (same, no judgement here), here’s your guide to making friends at work, according to Dr Tang.
Your basic four-step friendship-making guide:
- Offer to help out – for example, with events or other places where you may meet people as part of the organising team, as well as enjoy the event.
- Join a car pool or take advantage of any events organised by work, such as fitness classes, art classes and even training.
- Try to steer the conversation to more personal topics such as family or hobbies rather than what was on TV last night.
- Accept invitations – even if you’re not sure if you’re going to enjoy the event.
I lost my job during the pandemic and was out of work for 6 months. Now I’m on £26k, but I’m broke and totally stuck. What the hell do I do?
Use active positive responses when chatting
If you want to further the conversation and converse on a deeper level, notice how you’re replying to your soon-to-be work life.
- Active positive response: That’s so interesting, why/what/how did you do that?
- Passive positive response (which closes a conversation): That’s so interesting, thanks for sharing.
- Active destructive response (guaranteed to not make you any friends, should probs avoid): That’s a stupid question, why did you ask that?
Master the art of listening
Similarly, active listening means you interact with what is being said by asking open questions, writing things down, or paraphrasing back to the speaker what they said, just to make sure you have received the information accurately. There are four levels of listening:
- Hearing: where we are thinking about something else and very little goes in.
- Listening: where we can probably repeat a few words but may not understand the true meaning of what was conveyed.
- Active listening: where we interact with the information and can take in much more.
- Deep listening: almost like listening between the lines, but this level is usually reserved for professionals such as coaches or teachers or the medical and legal professions.
Be mindful of your friendships
This goes for strengthening any relationship in your life. Ask yourself: how do you envision a relationship that will make you happy? Set out what values you want in that person, and what you are not willing to accept. Set out what values you want them to recognise in you. Then focus on living your values, and make your choices accordingly.
You could think on your friendships outside of work, and ask yourself: ‘With whom am I most ‘myself’?’ and identity why – what is it about those people that you love? – and see if you can spot those qualities in any of your colleagues. Work to spend more time with those people, and to be those things back to them.