Are your employees actually disengaged, or are they lonely?

Hot take - Are your employees actually disengaged, or struggling with loneliness?

Authored By: Amanda Kevin, Founder of ExpeditionHR

In today’s world, social media usage is at an all time high, while statistics show that we’re experiencing an all time low in feelings of connectedness. We need to ask ourselves what’s creating this gap, and as an employer ask ourselves—what part do we play in this? Where does our responsibility lie, and how can we create safe spaces for our employees?

If you employ full-time staff, they’re spending about one third of their lives with you for the duration of time they stay with the company. Throughout an employee’s tenure, we hope to see them grow and evolve into a greater professional than when they entered the door. But during this time, we also need to recognize the personal changes an employee may endure during their employment. They might start a family, become a caregiver, lose a family member, start a new hobby, or adopt a pet. Good or bad, employees evolve both professionally and personally during this time.

In the face of the uncertainties of personal and professional life, employees may sometimes struggle to be as engaged as they once were. Can some of this be corrected by giving them a fun new project to spearhead, or by moving them into a different role? Absolutely! But what about the circumstance where the root issue isn’t disengagement at all? In fact, they may have the desire to engage, but feelings of isolation, imposter syndrome, and self doubt are consuming them.

The tough news? Loneliness is hard to recognize and differentiate from disengagement. The good news? There’s something, as employers, we can do about it.

Know the Signs

Extroverted employees who are always collaborating with coworkers might be lonely, while those that tend to be more introverted, perfectly content heads-down may also be lonely. So how do you detect who is in danger of the loneliness epidemic?

Some signs include:

  • Lack of interest or motivation (in the ways in which they used to be)
  • Declining quality of work
  • Disengaging from activities they used to be passionate about
  • Quick to complain / talk negatively
  • Avoid company outings and social gatherings.

As managers, it’s critical that you get to know and understand your employees’ personalities, preferences, and normal behaviors so that you can quickly identify when something is off.

Create + Seek Genuine Connection

Think back to the last time you met someone new at an event and thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and company of your new friend. Consider the last time you had a family game night—TV off and phones set aside. Remember the last time you met with a close friend to talk deeply about something that mattered to you.

After one of these moments of genuine connection, what feeling did you walk away with? Did you feel a renewed sense of connection? Maybe a sense of relief as weight lifted from your shoulders. Did you feel seen, heard or valued?

While we can’t force these genuine connections, we can help create them through employee perks like sponsoring a family dinner night or picking up the tab for remote workers that decide to meet up for lunch. Simple incentives can often create space and remove the financial burden for employees to create genuine connections.

Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem

Each employee you have is going to have their own perspective on what’s valuable to them and what makes them feel connected. Ideally, you want to create events and perks that are individualized and create choice to cater to those unique perspectives. For example, for someone that doesn’t like large group settings or being around alcohol, having a company sponsored happy hour every other Friday might not be so inviting.

So remember:

  • Quality of interactions over quantity of people that attend, always.
  • Be alert and aware of signs of loneliness.
  • Partner with managers to normalize conversations around loneliness by creating a safe environment for employees to share how they’re feeling.
  • Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or access to an online therapy program that can give all employees access to licensed mental health providers. They often provide a plethora of services including a crisis line in case of emergency situations.


While loneliness can be difficult to distinguish, implementing the right tools, training up your managers and supporting employees with the right benefits, can help clear the mud. Magical things happen when we do this right. Employees feel cared for and connected to your company. And you and your managers are aware and in tune with employees, making you better equipped to know when something is off. This creates an employee / employer exchange that’s safe and inclusive for all.

Amanda KevinAmanda Kevin is the Founder of ExpeditionHR. Leveraging her 10+ years of experience building HR functions for several high growth startups, her passion is in creating a fulfilling and meaningful employee experience. Through alleviating compliance stressors, creating policy that upholds workplace culture, and creating a work environment that professionals will be drawn to, ExpeditionHR will guide small business owners towards fulfilling their wildest dreams.