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Loneliness may be the biggest threat to productivity right now

March 17, 2021, 6:22 PM UTC

Welcome to Worksheet, a newsletter about how people are working smarter in these turbulent times.

Every week, this newsletter will share analysis on the state of work by S. Mitra Kalita, a veteran media executive, author, and journalist.

In this week’s edition, Kalita looks at how lonely, disconnected workers might be hurting—and what they need from you.


When COVID struck, we were already in a pandemic: the loneliness pandemic. 

More than a year ago, 60% of Americans reported feeling lonely, left out, poorly understood or lacking companionship. It’s only gotten worse. 

As companies prepare for the logistics of returning to work, the mental-health crisis of their employees looms large. Surveys show anxiety and stressaffect productivity and retention; TELUS International  says 80% of workers would consider leaving their current employer for one that focuses more heavily on mental health.

How can workers and managers solve for burnout and loneliness as a part of our transition to the workplace of the future? The twin pandemics are hitting workers hard, but also represent an opportunity to rethink and reconnect dynamics among teams. That’s the message of two new books on the subject. 

“We are on the cusp of a reset. How often in life do we get a do-over?” asked Susan McPherson, author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Business Relationships. “Now we have the ability to go forth knowing how important, how vitally necessary having hugs and meaningful deep conversation is, to gather in groups outside of existing family. We also know the power of technology, good and bad. We have the chance to do it right.”

Her research and that of economist Noreena Hertz, author of The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart find common ground and offer concrete, prescriptive ideas to combat loneliness. 


Kalita chats with both authors about what works (and what doesn’t) as managers try to reconnect with employees.

Read her full column here.

Wondering what else the future of work holds? Visit Fortune‘s Smarter Working hub presented by Future Forum by Slack.

This week's reads

Hybrid work

One employersplit the the week so one team worked one half and another the other half, and people never met. So it ended up with two companies in parallel. That was not the goal (Reset)

Epic pay

The elaborate architecture of Elon Musk's comp package puts Tesla's CEO on track to make history. (Fortune)

Dad leave

A study of fathers found positive experiences when they were forced to take paternity leave, despite concerns over the gap in their careers. (McKinsey)

Shot at work

Some companies have successfully registered to administer the COVID19 vaccine to their workers. (WSJ)