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An Unexpected Way One Leader Reduced Loneliness Among Their Team

This paradoxical approach is helping to strengthen the connections of a team.

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Want your team to build stronger connections? Disconnect them.

Outside of work your team members are connected to children, bandmates, partners, moviegoers, volunteers, spouses, fanatics, parents, classmates and more.

The line between work and life has all but vanished causing work to gobble up more and more free time for workers everywhere. Today's growing always-on work culture is encroaching more and more on employee's outside of work connections leaving workers lonelier because they are unable to tend to important relationships.

Making room for team members to maintain strong connections in their personal lives is increasingly important as loneliness levels continue to rise across the global workforce.

Related: Why Most Employees Are Lonely and Underperforming

While engagement is important, at times what's equally important is disengagement. Ensuring your team members' other connections remain strong — by giving them the guilt-free and uninterrupted time to tend to those connections — is important to keep loneliness sidelined.

An executive recently shared with me how he ensures team members sustain strong personal connections and cultivates a connectable culture where teams prioritize social connections.

Paul (not his real name), the executive at a multi-billion dollar fast-food restaurant company, recently identified an emerging leader inside the organization named Ava (not her real name). For years, Ava had made work her full focus, putting in extra hours and pouring herself into the job. It is, after all, what made her stand out. Paul met with her and said, "Ava, we are really excited about you, your future, and the work you're doing." Paul highlighted Ava's skills and contributions and then said, "We want to promote you. However, we refuse to promote you unless you change something.'

Ava was thrown back and a bit confused considering how hard she had been working. She was having a hard time imagining what else could be expected of her. "I was really dumbfounded," she said. But what Paul shared with her next, she would "never forget" and it would serve as the foundation for her future leadership.

Paul said, "We appreciate how hard you're working. But every time we make a promotion, it sends a message to the organization. We feel like if we were to promote you right now based on your behavior at work, we'd be sending the wrong message. We'd be sending the message that in order to get ahead here, you've got to work seven days a week. And we think that's a very unhealthy message. But we are willing to promote you under one condition: you have to agree to work less. You have to agree to prioritize relationships outside of work. We just feel like you're not a very good role model for what we want our leaders to be. So you're going to have to change that behavior."

Related: Life-Work Balance Is Becoming the New Normal

Mature leaders and healthy cultures allow workers to make the choice on what connections need to take priority over work. Connection with spouses. Connection with kids. Connection with friends. Connection with family. Connection with oneself.

Paul wanted his people to thrive in all aspects of their lives — inside and outside of work. He also made it a point to know what his employees valued outside of work so he could encourage them in those areas. He made sure he wasn't rewarding team members for overextending themselves. What gets promoted gets repeated.

Ava changed her behavior and eventually got promoted. And now the boundaries between work and personal remain intact for herself and it serves as a model for the rest of her team and the organization, further reinforcing the company's culture of prioritizing personal connections.

Paul gave Ava the permission to disconnect from work in order to connect outside of work. At times, leaders must fight for their team's connections on their behalf.

Between April 5 and 9, 2021, LinkedIn surprised all employees by giving them permission to disconnect in order to reconnect with what's important to them. Michael Susi, director of global wellness at LinkedIn, said this about their RestUp! Well-Being Week Off: "It's a one-time, global paid week off for employees. It's an opportunity for us to take care of ourselves and put our well-being first."

Other than allowing employees to disconnect early or take the day off, here's how a few companies are finding ways to protect their employees' connections outside of work. Mattel, Inc., the toy manufacturing company, offers employees up to 16 paid hours off to participate in their kids' school events. Airbnb, the community-driven hospitality company, provides employees with $2,000 a year to spend on Airbnb properties where they can connect with family or friends. Burton, a snowboarding outfitter, provides employees the day off to hit the slopes with friends if two feet of snow falls in 24 hours. REI, the retail and outdoor recreation services company, offers an employee challenge grant where employees get $300 in products for an outdoor activity with others.

It's easy to categorize loneliness as an individual problem, but it's actually a systemic problem that affects the entire team. Getting the team to team up against loneliness by prioritizing their personal connections will help to evict loneliness and ensure it stays banished.

Related: How to Lessen Loneliness and Boost Belonging at Work

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