Young man working late Those whohave more friends at work tend to stay at the company longer, but percent of employees globally have no friends at work andover half have five or fewer total friends. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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Using technology to communicate takes up nearly halfof an employee's day, and it's not beneficial—especially when itmakes them feel isolated and alone.

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According to a new study titled “Global Work Connectivity,” from FutureWorkplace and Virgin Pulse, spending so much time communicatingwith coworkers via tech instead of in person has negative results:slightly more than half feel lonely always or very often as aresult.

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Related: Open-office plans kill employeecommunication

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More and more, employees are reliant on tech to keep them intouch with colleagues, whether through e-mail (45 percent), textmessaging (15 percent) or instant messaging (12 percent). Of thosewho said they rely primarily on e-mail, more than 40 percent saidthey feel lonely always or very often, are not engaged and have ahigh need for social connection.

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“Employees can so easily get lost behind instant messages andemails,” says Rajiv Kumar, M.D. Chief MedicalOfficer at Virgin Pulse and president of Virgin PulseInstitute. ”True connection only happens when we pick upthe phone and have a conversation, or get together in person for adiscussion or meeting. I have found that having those connectionsis one of the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction,retention, performance and success. This study underscores the needfor us to help our employees by fostering human interaction,communication and strong relationships that extend past theworkplace.”

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Other findings from the study include the fact that those whohave more friends at work tend to stay at the company longer. Sevenpercent of all employees globally, according to the results, haveno friends at work and over half have five or fewer total friends.The 62 percent who have five or fewer friends feel lonely eitheralways or very often, and 72 percent say they aren't engaged, while60 percent say they'd be more inclined to stay with their companylonger if they had more friends.

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This was especially true for younger employees, with Gen Z (74percent) and millennials (69 percent) saying they'd probably sticklonger, compared with Gen Xers (59 percent) and boomers (40percent).

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Companies that rely on remote workers should be aware that thosewho are lonely or poorly engaged are considerably more likely toquit. While the study finds that a third of employees globally workremote always or very often, and two-thirds of them aren'tengaged—and just 5 percent of remote workers always or very oftensee themselves working at their company for their entire career,compared with 28 percent who never work remotely.

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In addition, 39 percent of those who never get face time withtheir team are remote workers, and 43 percent of them saidthat more face time would help them build deeper relationships withtheir team. A whopping 80 percent of those who said they would havebetter relationships if their team communicated with them moreoften work remotely.

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And interestingly, it's male workers who feel the loneliness anddisconnection more deeply, with 57 percent of them feeling lonelyat work, compared with just 43 percent of women. Introverts, too,at 63 percent, feel lonely at work more than extroverts (37percent).

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And older people suffer less from working remotely, with 36percent of GenXers and 29 percent of boomers reporting feelinglonely at work compared with 45 percent of GenZ and 47 percent ofmillennials. Says the report, “Outside of the workplace, youngergenerations have a greater need for social connections aswell.”

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So what's to be done about it? According to the report, leaderscan help facilitate stronger relationships between team membersthrough team-building activities (45 pecent), social events (45percent) and “workations” (31 percent). But just 20 percent ofthose surveyed said they could encourage connections usingcollaborative technologies, and feel that in-person experiences aremore impactful.

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“Technology has created the illusion that workers are connected,when in reality they feel isolated, lonely, disengaged and lesscommitted to their organizations when overusing or misusing it,”says Dan Schawbel, Future Workplace partner. “Today'sleaders need to use technology as a bridge to connection so thatthey can foster strong work cultures, where employee's human needsare met and supported. The best way for them to do that is throughteam building activities, social events and workations whereworkers can get to know each other on a personal level.”

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.