How Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation

human footprint

Create Connection

Though we live in an ever-connected, always-on world, we somehow seem less connected to actual, real people than ever before. Is it possible that the very technology that connects us is contributing to a sense of loneliness and isolation?

In Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel answers that question. Based on research spanning thousands of managers and employees, Dan’s new book is a fascinating look at the impact technology is having at work and at home. Dan is a best-selling author, a partner and research director at Future Workplace and the founder of Millennial Branding and

I recently asked Dan to share a little more about his research.



Workplace Loneliness

Tell us more about your research into workplace loneliness and its connection to technology.

There is a loneliness epidemic spreading across the entire world. An Aetna study shows that almost half of Americans are lonely. In the UK, nine million people are lonely and over 200,000 haven’t spoken to a close friend or relative in the past month. In Japan, 30,000 people die from loneliness each year. I’ve read about the impact of loneliness and have felt lonely myself as an only child and someone who lives alone in New York City. For my book Back to Human, I conducted a global study with Virgin Pulse of over 2,000 managers and employees from ten different countries. Overall, I found that 39 percent say they at least sometimes feel lonely at work. I spoke to the former U.S. Surgeon General, and he said that loneliness has the same health risk and reduction of life as smoking fifteen cigarettes each day. In the workplace, technology has created the illusion that we are all hyper connected, yet in reality we feel disconnected, isolated and lonely over the overuse and misuse of it.



Share a little about personal fulfillment and how we can enhance it on the job. 

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after we meet our physiological and safety needs, we need to focus on belongingness and love if we want to be self-actualized, reaching our full potential at work. We spend one-third of our lives working, so if we have weak relationships with our teammates, we feel unfulfilled. We are less productive, happy and committed to the team and organization’s long-term success as a result of not having close ties. In order to best serve the needs of our teammates, we have to first focus on our own fulfillment. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing the most, what do your past accomplishments say about your strengths, what your core values are, what brings out your positive emotions and where you envision yourself in the future. Once you’re fulfilled, it’s important to get to know your teammates on a personal level, understand their needs and then service those needs. You can do this through on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring and regular meetings where you show you’re committed to their success.



Create a Culture of Engagement

What strategies do you recommend for senior leaders of organizations to create a culture of engagement?

Only 15 percent of the global workforce is engaged at work! Leaders need to focus on the four employee engagement factors I describe in the book: happiness, belonging, purpose and trust. In order to make people happy, you need to pay them fairly, help them balance work with their person lives, recognize them when they’ve done something beneficial for the team and get to know them on a personal live. Your team wants to feel that they belong. They want to know that their ideas matter and that they won’t be criticized if they speak up. You should schedule social events, have full team meetings and make an effort to reach out if someone feels not included. Employees also want a sense of purpose. They want to feel like the work they do every day has an impact on the team, on you as a leader and the organization as a whole. By explaining how their work serves a greater purpose, they will be more engaged. Finally, employees will trust you if you’ve been open and honest with them about what is really going on in your company. Too many leaders hold back information, when that information is what builds trust and engagement.



Hire for Personality

Would you share a few questions that will ensure you are “hiring for personality”? 

Here are some questions you should ask if you want to hire for personality:

  1. What was an obstacle you overcame in a previous job?
  2. When have you admitted to your teammates that you made a mistake, and how did you manage it?
  3. Give me an example of a situation in which you had a conflict with a team member and tell me how you handled yourself.
  4. Who has been a great mentor to you, and how was that manifested?
  5. Do you have any questions about the position or the company?


Create a Sense of Belonging

What are some ways a manager can create a sense of belonging to enhance teamwork? 

Based on the research, we found that the best way to engage employees, create more connectivity and belongingness is to arrange social events and team outings. You need to create an environment where people can bring their full human into the workplace. You should hold more meetings because each meeting is a touch point and a way to engage others in a more formal setting. While many believe meetings can be wasteful, and counterproductive, I’m suggesting holding meetings where technology isn’t used during them. Where ideas are brainstormed and exchanged without the distractions of devices. Meetings don’t have to be long, but face-time is critical to team bonds.

Make sure to acknowledge teammates who might appear like they don’t fit in. This is especially important when they first start their job because it takes time to adjust to a new environment and they will be looking for support.



Empathy is a critical success factor of leadership. Can it be developed?  

Empathy is obtained through human interactions and experiences. If we are always using technology to connect, we lose the human touch, and it prevents us from being empathetic towards others. Empathy is so critical because everyone has problems they are currently dealing with or will in the future. As leaders we have to acknowledge our teammates where they are and empathize with what they are dealing with. We can’t visually see the pain in someone’s head, but we can give them space to manage it.

 Dan Schawbel


Employees feel pressured to work constantly whether after-work or on vacation. What coaching would you give to an individual who wants to advance at work, but also in a healthy, balanced way?

Not having your phone is the new vacation! We live in a constant state of burnout because just having a phone means you’re on-call 24/7 without rest. That is why we have to have conversations with our leaders about managing personal and professional interests. Leaders need to be more understanding as long as you’re delivering results. You are also personally responsible for technology addiction. The goal is for technology to be a bridge to human interaction, not a barrier. Use it to plan your next meeting, or vacation, but when you’re physically there, put the phone away and be emotionally there, too!



For more information, see Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.

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