We are more connected than ever, and yet loneliness is epidemic. We are rich in information, but deciding what to do with that information is more difficult than ever. We can achieve more from our desktops than ever, and yet we are physically and mentally exhausted. Our best work is fueled by positive emotions like empathy, creativity, and shared purpose, and yet we measure our worth exclusively in quantitative terms. Our teams are ever more interdependent, and yet we cling to bureaucratic silos and hierarchies that discourage cooperation.
The American novelist and philosopher Benjamin Hale observed, We, and I mean humans, are meaning makers. We seek to find meaning in our daily decisions, actions, and relationships and especially our work.
Thanks to digital work technology, it’s easy to connect with people thousands of miles away. Social media also provides us with hundreds—sometimes thousands—of connections outside of work. But how meaningful are those relationships? It’s a vital question, because a sense of meaning provides us with the sense that our lives matter. Degrees of meaning differentiate our relationships at work and home.
It’s easy for social media to create a false sense of connection, and that’s, in part, why we are lonelier today than ever before. More than 40 percent of Americans say they’re lonely. And a growing body of research shows this is (quite literally) bad for our health—raising our risk of stroke, heart attack, even dementia.
Burnout is on the rise. In a Deloitte survey of the external marketplace, three out of four respondents said they have experienced burnout in their current job, with more than half saying they felt burned out more than once. In that survey, we asked respondents how they deal with their burnout, and 51 percent say they talk to friends or family. It’s not much of a leap then to say that human connections can be healing.
Even when we are inclined to change, the way in which we work today can compound the problem. There’s the increase in remote work—like telecommuting and gig jobs—both of which typically don’t come with regular, repeated person-to-person interaction. Even when those jobs do, the connections are rarely meaningful—how close can you get to someone during a 10-minute car ride?