職場寂寞問題

Whiteboard Session:The Problem of Loneliness at Work
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科技持續進步,人們聯絡更密切,但寂寞感卻變得日益嚴重。曾擔任美國衛生署長的維偉克.默熙醫師(Dr. Vivek Murthy),解釋可以對此做些什麼。

維偉克.默熙:雖然我們生活在科技時代,人們緊密連結,但其實,寂寞感變得日益嚴重。為什麼?可能有幾個原因。

第一,現代人的移動性高於以往任何時刻。很多人不再居住於自己成長的社區,而是搬到別處。他們通常不會只搬一次,而是搬很多次,常會離開朋友、家人和長大的社區。有些搬遷可能是好的。有時候,他們會找到更好的工作,或者很喜歡新家所在地方的天氣。但這樣做的後果之一,是他們也必須離開熟悉的人。

科技是把雙面刃。有時科技可以幫助我們建立連結。但在其他方面,科技有時也會取代人們親自見面的連結。當我們花大量時間在社群媒體,而不是實際與他人相處時,等於是把我認為的高品質連結,換成了低品質的連結。這在長期可能產生不良後果。

但另一個因素也有重大作用。在現代,工作已擴張並侵入生活的所有層面。很多人的工作時間不再是朝九晚五,而他們查看電子件的時間是週末、晚上,甚至是在假期當中。因此,很難真的在精神上從工作抽離,而你原本以為屬於你自己的時間,可用來和家人、朋友相處,像是晚餐、週末或假期,有時這些時光會被工作排擠掉。

這些只是少數一些因素,會導致寂寞感在美國不斷增加。真正的問題是,為什麼這很重要?寂寞不利於健康。

事實證明,經歷寂寞的人,壽命比沒有經歷寂寞的人更短。

寂寞會提高生病的風險,像是心血管疾病、失智、焦慮症、抑鬱症等。其實,寂寞對死亡率的影響,大約等於每天抽15支香煙的影響。

為什麼會這樣?要了解這一點,你必須稍微了解寂寞的生物學。從歷史上來看,我們人類逐漸演化為社會人。

幾千年前,如果你與其他人建立連結,成為人際網絡的一部分,你保護自己不受到掠食者襲擊、獲得穩定食物供應的可能性,高於你獨自求生存的情況。幾千年來,對人際連結的這種需求,逐漸納入我們的神經系統中。這基本上成為我們的生存優勢。

因此我們在目前的狀態下,若是被剝奪了自認適度的社會連結,就會讓我們處於生理上的壓力狀態。壓力有時可能是好的,如果只是短期的小陣痛。

但如果身體長期承受壓力,就可能造成很大傷害。長期下來,這可能促使皮質醇水準升高,進而導致更嚴重的發炎,而我們愈來愈了解,這種發炎會損害血管和組織,並增加人們罹患多種疾病的風險,像是糖尿病、心臟病、關節炎等等。因此,慢性發炎是問題。長期的寂寞感讓我們處於壓力狀態,進而導致發炎。

你可能會想,這會對健康造成影響,但它會如何影響職場?我們知道,人們在工作上感到寂寞時,職場投入程度會下降。這會影響他們的生產力和創意,最終也會影響到留任率,也就是他們留在職場上的意願和能力。

當你理解到,寂寞感處於慢性壓力狀態的中心時,這就變得與職場也有關,因為慢性壓力會影響我們大腦的前額葉皮質,大腦的這個部分控制執行功能和決策,也就是妥善完成工作所需的技能和能力。

事實證明,這確實是職場中的普遍問題。有很多員工表示,在工作中感到寂寞。其實很少員工表示,有把工作上的任何人當成最好的朋友。

將近一半的執行長也表示感到寂寞。所以,這不是組織中單一層級的問題。它影響到企業鏈中的所有人。對此我們能做些什麼?

第一,我們可以著手評估工作場所裡人們的連結狀態。我曾待過的醫學界有個古老說法:只要你不衡量它,它就不重要。如果我們不評估人們之間的連結情況,就無法真正知道發生了什麼。我們不會知道自己還有多少地方待改進。

我們要做的第二件事,是保護工作之外的時間,那些可與家人、朋友交流的時光。這說得容易,很難做到,因為電郵和簡訊已滲透到生活中的各個面向。但很重要的是,我們應該在生活中抽一點時間,不受工作干擾。職場可以幫得上忙,做法是建立規則和培養一種文化,這種文化不期待、也不偏愛人們隨時查看收件匣。

職場可做的第三件事,是創造機會,讓人們以深刻且有意義的方式相互了解。我要清楚說明這是什麼意思。這不表示每週一次的歡樂時光。歡樂時光的確有作用,有時會有幫助。但歡樂時光最終會占用與家人相聚的時間,最終讓員工花更多時間回去工作,以完成任務。對許多人來說,這段時間最終也用來談論彼此最共同之處,也就是談論工作。

你真正想要的,是讓人們有機會完整地認識和了解彼此,而不是只知道對方的工作技能。你希望了解驅使對方的動力是什麼?是什麼讓他們來工作?他們的價值觀是什麼?他們在乎什麼?他們關心什麼?這不表示你必須與職場中的每個人都心靈相通。但這表示,每個人都天生想要受到一定程度的理解和讚賞。但我們常常沒有這種機會。

我要強調的最後一點是,職場中的領導人應以身作則,創造出很注重人際連結的文化。這表示應花心力在人身上。這表示如果有必要,就應致力幫助別人,即使不方便也要幫。我們需要彼此。我們是相互依存的生物。

這深刻體現在我們生活中的所有面向,尤其是職場。但如果我們可以建立更強的人際連結,並體認到,我們彼此的連結是建立其他一切的基礎,那麼我們建立的公司和組織就會充滿活力,而且強大。這是我們最終想做到的事。

(劉純佑譯)


Dr. Vivek Murthy, former U.S. surgeon general, explains what can be done.

Vivek Murthy: Even though we're living in an age of technology where we’re incredibly connected, loneliness has, in fact, been getting worse. And why is that? Well, it could be for several reasons. Number one, people are more mobile now than they've ever been before.

A lot of people don't stay in the communities they grew up in, but they move. And they don't just move once, but they will move multiple times, often leaving friends and families and communities that they’ve built behind. And those can be good moves. Sometimes they find a better job or they enjoy the weather in the new place that they moved to.

But one of the consequences of that can be that they also leave people behind. Technology is also a double-edged sword. Sometimes technology can help us connect. But in other ways technology, can sometimes also displace our in-person connections with people.

When we're spending a lot of time on social media instead of being with people in person, those replace what I think of as high quality connections with sometimes with lower quality connections. And that can have a consequence over time.

But there's another factor is well at play here. Which is that in the modern age, work has expanded and encroached into all parts of our lives. Many people don't go to work at 9:00 and stop their work engagement at 5:00 anymore, but instead they're checking email over the weekends, during evenings, and even sometimes during vacation time.

So it can be hard to actually get not only a mental break from work, but that time that you assume will be yours to spend with family and friends, like dinnertime or the weekends or vacations, well, sometimers they’re crowded out by work.

So these are but a few of the factors that are contributing to why loneliness may be increasing in our country. The real question is why does this matter? Loneliness has health consequences. It turns out that people who experience loneliness have shorter lives than people who do not.

Loneliness increases our risk for cardiovascular disease, for dementia, for anxiety, and for depression, as well as other conditions. In fact, the impact on mortality of loneliness is about equivalent to the impact of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

And why does this happen? Well, to understand that, you have to understand a little bit about the biology of loneliness. Historically, we as people evolved to be social being.

Thousands of years ago, if you were connected with other people, and part of a network, the likelihood that you could protect yourself from predators and have access to a stable food supply was, in fact, greater than if you were out there trying to survive on your own. And over thousands of years, that need for connection became baked into our nervous system. It was essentially a survival advantage for us.

And so much so that, in our current state if we are deprived of what we feel is an adequate amount of social connection, then actually places us in a physiologic stress state. Now stress can sometimes be good when it comes in small bouts for short periods of time.

But when you have chronic stress on the body, that can be very damaging. It can lead to higher cortisol levels that are sustained over time. It can lead to greater degree of inflammation, which are increasingly realized to be damaging to blood vessels and to tissues and increase our risk of diabetes, and heart disease, and arthritis, and a host of other conditions.

So chronic inflammation is a problem. And chronic loneliness in fact, places us in a stress state that leads to inflammation. So you might think, well, this is(n’t) all well and good for health, but how does it impact the workplace? We know that when people are lonely at work, that their degree of engagement in the workplace goes down. That has an impact on their productivity and on their creativity. It can also have an impact, ultimately, on retention, on their willingness and ability to stay in that workplace.

When you also recognize that loneliness places a center of chronic stress state, then this becomes relevant to the workplace as well because chronic stress affects our prefrontal cortex in our brain, the part of our brain that controls executive function and decision making, the very skill sets and abilities that we need in order to do good a good job at work.

Well it turns out that this is a real prevalent problem in the workplace. They are large numbers of employees who report feeling lonely at work. Very few employees actually will report having someone that they would consider a best friend at work.

And nearly half of CEOs are reporting that they, too, are experiencing loneliness. So this is not a problem at only one level in an organization. This is effecting people throughout the corporate chain. So what can we do? Well number one, we can start by assessing the state of connection in our workplace.

There’s an old saying in the world of medicine that I trained in which is that if you don't measure it, it doesn't matter. And if we're not accessing how connected people are, we’re not really going to know what’s happening. W’re not going to know how much more we have to improve.

The second thing that we have to do is to protect the time that people have outside of work to connect with their family and with their friends. This is easy to say, hard to do in a world where email and text messages can pervade every aspect of our life.

But it's really important that we take some time in our lives and protect that from work. And workplaces can help by establishing rules and setting a culture where being immersed in your inbox all the time is not an expectation, and, in fact, not a preference.

The third thing that workplaces can do is to create opportunities for people to get to understand each other in a deep and meaningful way. Now I want to be clear about what this means. This does not mean having a happy hour once a week. That has its place and that can be helpful from time to time as well.

But, Happy Hours end up taking time away from many people from their family. It ends up adding time that they have to come back to work to complete tasks. And many folks, it also ends up being a time where they talk about what they have most in common with each other, which is work.

What you really want is an opportunity for people to get to understand and learn about each other as whole people, not just as their skill set at work. You want to understand what drives this person? What brings them to work? What are their values?

What do they care about? What are they concerned about? This doesn't mean that you have to bear your entire soul with everyone at work. But what it does mean is that each of us has an innate desire to want to be understood and appreciated to some degree. But we often don't have that opportunity.

One last thing that I want to emphasize here, though, is that it's very important for leaders in the workplace to lead by example in creating a culture where connections matter. That means investing in people. It means investing in helping others, when there's a need, even if it's not convenient. We need each other. We are interdependent creatures.

And that plays out in profound ways in all aspects of our life, particularly the workplace. But if we can build stronger connections, recognizing that connection, our connection to each other, is a foundation on which we build everything else, then we can create companies and organizations that are vibrant and strong. And that's ultimately what we want to do.



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