Loneliness is an epidemic and the isolation it can breed, can be fatal. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness

  • 45% of adults in England feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely. This equates to over twenty-five million people; 
  • 5.0% of people in Great Britain (2.6 million adults) reported that they felt lonely “often” or “always” between 3 April and 3 May 2020, about the same proportion as pre-lockdown.

Why we should care about loneliness in leadership

While loneliness can be part of everyday life, it can also happen in the workplace – specifically within leadership. This is because leaders are in a unique position – their role can elicit automatic trust and compliance, but this can be damaged by a lack of transparency, which sometimes isn’t optional. Technology leadership has the added burden of CTOs and senior engineering managers often being the only executives that ‘speak’ tech, which can cause further issues. 

Following a Twitter discussion in which startup founders talked about loneliness and how to find support, we decided to run a loneliness survey earlier in the year. We invited participation from both our community and those in the wider tech industry to find out how they were really feeling and how CTO Craft can help make things better. 

Our survey: What we found

The results of our survey were eye-opening and in some cases, upsetting. As one survey participant explained: as a senior technology leader of a function or unit, it can be difficult to find someone who can sense-check for you – especially if peers are lacking in technical understanding or knowledge. Another said not having a shared approach means there will be times when you have to make, justify and implement decisions without any or full support.

Of the 100 people questioned, almost 97% had felt lonely as a leader at one point or another, with 63.5% feeling lonely in their current role ‘sometimes’ and almost 19% feeling that way all of the time. 

The biggest cause of loneliness for our survey participants was a lack of connection with colleagues (24%) – something that is crucial for driving innovation, collaboration, productivity and morale.

Other reasons included:

  • Misalignment in values/purpose (15.6%)
  • Workplace politics (15.6%)
  • Feeling left out (11.5%)
  • Lack of trust from stakeholders (7%)
  • Not being able to bring whole self to work (7.3%)
  • Feeling misunderstood (4.2%)
  • Lack of team trust (4.2%)

Over half of those surveyed felt the pandemic had increased their feelings of loneliness at work, with 54.2% reporting this to be exacerbated by remote working. For many, distributed working removed the opportunities for work-related social gatherings, so-called ‘water cooler’ moments and the informal dialogue that can happen during in-person meetings or 1-to-1s. 

While much was done over the last 18 months by companies and team leads to limit the collateral damage of this loss, with Zoom fatigue settling in and people juggling varying care needs and/or experiencing isolation, the end result can feel more ‘forced fun’ than encouraging organic, healthy connection. 

For those feeling lonely within or because of the workplace, it impacted:

  • Motivation/Engagement (86.5%)
  • Confidence in dealing with stakeholders (44.8%)
  • Leading teams (34.4%)
  • Productivity/Delivery (32.3%)

While this no doubt can cause a problem from a commercial perspective, it has far wider-reaching implications for humanity as a whole. The stress that comes from chronic loneliness is one of the deadliest ailments to affect humans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, loneliness in the workplace can bleed into other areas including people’s personal lives. In fact, of the leaders questioned, over 77% said it had negative consequences for their general mood, self-esteem, self-confidence and general engagement with friends and family. 

Ongoing or unresolved feelings of loneliness can have catastrophic effects on an individual’s mental health. Lonely people are typically more prone to major psychiatric disorders and cognitive decline and have an increased risk of dementia. According to one 2010 study, “A sense of loneliness has also been associated with health risks that are equivalent to or exceed that of obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes daily”. The results of our survey corroborated these findings; the majority of those who had felt lonely in leadership had also suffered from other medical issues including anxiety, burnout, depression and insomnia – with many suffering from more than one. 

Going forward

So what next? Well now we’ve digested the results, we’re clear that more needs to be done to tackle loneliness in leadership and support those in ways that not only help with professional challenges, but offer more comprehensive mental health assistance. This will be done through new content, expert advice and events – including our forthcoming Winter CTO Craft Con on November 8th – 11th 2021 – in order to both raise awareness of the issue but also ensure CTO Craft is part of the solution. Watch this space. 

**If you’re struggling with any of the issues mentioned in this article, you can access support via a number of charities including Mind and Samaritans. You don’t have to suffer alone.**

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Want to hear even more about hiring? We’ll be covering all this and other great topics at our forthcoming CTO Craft Con Winter 2021 8 – 11 November. Get your ticket here now!

If you or your CTO / technology lead would benefit from any of the services offered by the CTO Craft community, use the Contact Us button at the top or email us here and we’ll be in touch!

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