Managing Loneliness in the Workplace w/ Dr. Kevin Skinner
Dr. Kevin Skinner
When people experience genuine human connection at work, everything changes. In this episode, Dr. Kevin Skinner, clinical director at Noble Health, tells us about the importance of human connection and how to foster it in the workplace. He says that because humans are relational beings, finding social connection in the workplace will make all the difference for their wellbeing – and for your business.
During our discussion, we talk about:
- Using a loneliness assessment to evaluate how your people are doing
- Helping workers overcome feelings of alienation and unfulfillment
- How to create a foundation of psychological safety
- The importance of being open to employees’ ideas
- How social companionship affects job performance
- The ways that social connection can impact company culture
Questions for Dr. Skinner? Email him at [email protected]
Episode 50 Transcript
You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show.
You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. Welcome to the next episode of HR Mavericks. I’m Garrett Justice in today I’m joined by Dr Kevin Skinner, who’s a clinical director at noble health. Dr Skinner, how you doing today? I’m good. How you doing, Garrett? Doing Great. It’s so great to have you on the show today. I’m excited to have you on the show that really talk about this super important topic. You know, we don’t get many clinical directors, doctors on the show, but I think that this topic is super relevant for small businesses and HR people. So excited to dive into it. You know, I’m excited to be with you guys at one of the interesting things that we were find is there such an overlap between my work the mental health field and what now, what employers are dealing with with mental health issues, where we’re seeing a lot of challenges that h our people, small business owners, are like, what do I do? How do I do this. Yeah, and we’re we’re trying to bridge the gaps. I’m excited to spend some time with you guys, say I love it. Before we dive into that topic, though, tell our listeners just a little bit more about your background and also what noble health tests. Yeah, so noble help is an APP and the APP is designed to support people in their mental health needs. Depression, anxiety. We’re going to be talking about loneliness today, which is a big part of our mental health. But we also have addction related road match to help individuals. Many times people turn online, turn online before they actually reach out for a professional and so we’re trying to meet them with support to help them get really a foundation of what they can expect, things that they can do today for their overall mental health and wellbeing. And so the the noble APP is designed to help individuals in their times of need, to get support in those crucial times. And what we’re realizing is there’s such a gap between business owners and getting mental health support for their employees that we thought well, this these are foundational. If people want support between you know, if they’re seeking a therapist, that they can get additional support along the way. I love it. It’s such a such an important thing that I think so many businesses are facing right now. So excited I needed is tell tell us a little bit more about your background that. Have you always worked in the mental health field? Yeah, so, I grew up in southeastern Idaho Farm I was, you know, the first part of my life, but at the end of the day I became a mental health professional and I’ve been doing therapy for about twenty seven years. I’ve started multiple businesses, but this one’s one of the most exciting to me because for the first time I’m able to take some of the stuff I’ve been doing in my office and take a global and and buible to help individuals literally throughout the world with with some of the mental health talents that they’re facing. Yeah, a lot of such a noble mission to which is perfect for noble health. So yeah, I love it. Well, you kind of seated our topic today already. You kind of mentioned this, but really it’s around this topic of loneliness, which, you know, we talk a lot about mental health and I’m glad that it’s becoming something that we can talk more openly about in workplace settings, because it’s needed. I think closely related to that is this idea of loneliness, but it’s not something that I hear, you know, many businesses talk about a lot, but I think it’s a lot that it’s a topic that a lot of employees have experienced, especially the last few years due to covid and as so many businesses are transition to this virtual work space, that where you’re not seeing people in person and having those in person interactions is often maybe as you what or maybe even at all. And so I think it’s a really interesting topic and you’re excited to dive into you to it with you. So the first question I really after you on this topic is what is loneliness in the workplace really look like? Help explain that kind of set the stage for us. Yeah, so it’s a phrase that we are were do. We really don’t explore a lot. It’s like loneliness. Well, okay, people feel lonely and relationships or if they don’t have a relationship, but when you start looking at loneliness in the workplace, it’s a very it’s profound. Let me just give you a couple of examples. There’s an assessment titled the Loneliness in Work Scale. So it’s that’s what it’s actually, you know, assesses for loneliness of work. We can give your users access to you know, those who are listening, we can give them act as to this assessment if they’d like to. But really it starts to look at what’s referred to his emotional deprivation. So imagine if we put life into buckets. We all have this bucket of time, twenty four hours, but really it’s three separate buckets. Work Bucket, which is probably somewhere between eight to ten or eleven hours for all of us, and then we have sleep bucket. Sleep buckets should be somewhere between, if we’re healthy, seven to nine hours, and then we have the rest of life, which is the third bucket. If I’m spending a third of my life roughly, or maybe even a little bit more, at the at work, and I don’t have emotional cut connection there emotional deprivation, there’s a phrase that use, meaning I can’t share my ideas with people, my thoughts with others. And you start looking at the one of the questions from this assessment there is a sense of commoderate in my workplace. Well, if I say no to that, I don’t I don’t feel like I can connect with others or another question. I often feel alienated for my coworkers. So so I’m feeling alienated like maybe my ideas aren’t good enough or I’m not a part of the group. They went out to lunch or with the pandemic. That’s really easy to feel alienated. Yeah, right, so I’m here, I am working at home and we have this meeting. That’s an hour. I get an assignment, I go work on my computer, but what I’m not getting is, hey, how’s your weekend? Anything interesting going on this weekend? Right, if we’re not taking the time for those types of conversations, I could be working my tail off getting the task done and feel emotionally separated from the work I’m actually doing. Yeah, that’s so interesting. You know, one of the things that really stands out to me about what you just said is we talked about loneliness, especially in a virtual work environment. My brain goes directly to, you know, physical separation and the loneliness that comes from not being around people. What I heard you talk about, though, is really about the connection piece, that you can experience loneliness even if you’re working in the same proximity as people because you don’t have that trust and safety and connection. So it’s applicable for both right, absolutely. In fact, that’s one of the core points, because we typically think, oh, now we’re closer and proximity, as we go through the pandemic that we’re we’re going to be more connected. Way, if I can’t share ideas, if I don’t feel part of a team, if I actually present an idea and it’s not accepted or rejected, and I if I’m in that situation, my ideas start to come back inside and I don’t share them. And let’s take it even a step further now, I I don’t feel connected to my coworkers, you’re going to have much higher turn as a business owner, and hiring people is one of our most expensive component of trying to find the right people. So as a business owner, one of the best things you could do is actually develop a team approach, which is actually the second part of looking at loneliness, and it’s called social companionship and and they found that if people have higher companionship at work, meaning I can share my ideas, my thoughts, a couple questions specifically. I have social companionship at work. Okay, so if I answer yes to that, then as an HR person, I’m going to now, if they don’t have that social companionship, they may be a great worker, but they’re not there. They’re going to be so alone at work that they’re higher risk for leaving because they’re missing something. Yeah, and let me say one of the Party are Garrett. I believe we’re designed for human connection, and that’s not just in our primary relationships. If I go to work and I’m spending a third of my life in that space of loneliness, I might be I might like the work, but I’m onunth fulfilled because I’m lonely at work. Yeah, yeah, it’s so interesting. I want to I want to just double click on that piece real quick because I’m curious your thoughts on this. It’s something that I’ve discussed with others in the past that how does that vary between those that are wired to be more extroverted versus introverted? Right, I it totally makes sense that we all need some sort of social connection with our are there instances where there are people who are in actually more introverted, that don’t need as much? We need a different type of connection. Yeah, that’s a a question, because during the pandemic, if you talked with an introvert, they were let they were in heaven, right, I mean, and yet even introverts needs connection. So if, again, separating a couple things out, if we just focus on being around people versus the conversation and the connection and and introvert, add an extrovert, they still need human connection. Where they and when I say connection, that might say something. I feel safe in your presence. Yeah, and and I and safety in presence creates this. Literally we let down our guard. So then we can bond socially. Yeah, and so if I’m if I’m putting up my guard, if I feel like I’m constantly in this protection mode, then then again I’m going to I’m going to be lonelier because I can’t. I don’t known. Where’s my team, where’s my bonding? Yeah, and that’s very important concept for us all to consider. Is Business, in work environment a place where we can bond and socially connect? If it is, hey, you, you’re going to have an employee who, at minimum, is going to have a harder time leaving your work because of the friendships. Right. Yeah, great point. I love that. I want to come back to the you you mentioned this loneliness in the workplace scale. This is sessment. Tell us a little bit more about how a business owner or HR person might use something like that to really just assess how their business is doing. Well, it’s a really simple thing. It’s I think it’s like sixteen questions. You could actually submit it and you could actually see, you know, how how are our employees doing in general? Right, I mean just in general. This is just to help us understand how you’re doing working through the pandemic. We’re coming out of IT, getting back. What are some of the challenges that we’re facing a company wide? Here’s a short sessment. Just helps US understand. It’s going to be confidential, but it helps us understand as an organization, kind of what this has been like for you. Yeah, that’s great. So sixteen questions, you share out the employees, you ask them to do it and that kind of gives you the data to know. What do you need? Where do you need to focus? Right, and I’ll tell you what, if I’m an HR person and and I’ve got, you know, fifteen people saying I often feel disconnected from others of work. Yeah, I’m going to start putting some application of the more maybe more integration, some tools, some things that we can do that get us to know each other. Yeah, yeah, that makes total sense. I want to do loo look on that to so tell us a little bit more about you know, what are some other examples of what businesses can do, some practical ways to really support employees in that process of increasing connections. Yeah, so let’s talk about some very specific things. First and foremost. That’s the solution, but we have to have the foundation before we could have the solution. And my point there is I could create an activity, but if I have someone who’s resenting another person who doesn’t feel safe because somebody is a tyrant or angry or upset or so demanding that I can’t connect that, then any activity I have might be thwarted because I don’t I don’t feel safe. So there is a principle in the business world called psychological safety and and it’s true and most environments. If we don’t feel psychologically safe in our environment, then I’m not going to bond. So we have to have that as a foundation. Then the solutions are there’s so many possible solutions. I mean we could get together either virtually or in person and we could just have a little bit of Hey, this is a something unique about you that we don’t know exercise. Now all of a sudden you’re telling me about a weekend trip that you took to the UN is and I’m like on Monday I’m like, Hey, how is your trip to the intics, and all of a sudden you’re talking about this hike and fishing and phenomenal experience and I’m like man, that sounds great. And now we’ve got this connection because I love man, I love to go camping. All your families will camping too. And now we’re having outside of work experiences where these employers are working together. I’m telling you, most people don’t understand when I have those types of connections, my work is so much easier. Yeah, yeah, I think that makes total sense. I want to go back to the psychological safetpiece because I know that that’s tangentially related to this topic, but it’s just that’s that core foundation, like you said. So what are the ways that you see? First that you know businesses lose psychological safety for their employees and one are the best ways to really ensure that employees have that psychological safety as a foundation. Yeah, so one of the first things that we have to do is we have to go back to look with safety in tails and that that’s really a biological response. When you go into an environment, or I go into environment for the first time, physiologically, the first thing that we ever do is we check for safety and then we ask. I mean in the background we’re saying, am I safe here? So if safe, then proceed to socially connect. If available, if this, then that. So at work I might go into a new environment and I’m here for an employee for a month or two or three months and I’m getting to know the flavor of it and and really in the beginning I’m probably a little bit more hesitant to share ideas or thoughts or reach out. Now there are extroverts, going back to that, that are more comfortable just diving right in, but a majority of us are a little bit slower to warm checking out for safety. So if I’m an employer, I’m soliciting ideas. I want your thoughts, I want your experience. What’s you’re experience in this company? What can we do to improve? So I’m continuously learning from the employees. What are we doing? What’s helpful? What’s not helpful? What do we need to eliminate? And it’s well, our meetings are going for too freaking hours. I mean, and I’m not a relieve my past. So I’m working an extra hour because our meetings are not concise. Just as an example. Yeah, yeah, right. And if I’m taking that kind of feedback, I’m creating a safe, psychologically safe environment, because all feedback is valued. Now consider this. If I’d become defense they’re all, my gosh, we have to have these stupid new we have these meetings. Yeah, and they’re very important and and, if right, and you’ve got to get your work done and I don’t care if you have to work an extra hour, like. Well, okay, that that’s just an example. But at the end of the day, if I’m not allowing those thoughts to come in safely, I’m they’re going to pull back, they’re not going to share and they’re going to disconnect and and, and that’s what the higher turn and turnover again. It’s not just that, it’s are they engaged in the work itself? Right, and I can go with the motion, or I could be an employee. That makes the business better, right, yeah, good, yeah, that’s so awesome. I it makes total sense to me. It sounds like that psychological safety pieces. It hinges so much on management leadership and then a cultural environment of that led by those things where you respond in the right way and you help people feel psychologically safe. Right. Yeah, and and then what I know? My ideas matter and that feedback is valued. Then I am willing to open up and I am willing to share and might do that consistently over time. Then we develop friendships and those types of friendships can last a lifetime. I’m a part of the company. I might not, I might actually move on because I get a different job opportunity, but I will always finally look back to that period of time where we connected, we had great memories and men that those are memories that are help us through this life. Yeah, if there’s one thing I would say is because we’re relational, the more healthy relationships we have, the better it is for us and everybody around us. Yeah, and at the end of the day, ultimately, the business to right. That’s how you’re going to grow a healthy, successful business that endures, that lasts. So that’s right. You know, this isn’t such a great conversation you know, I just to kind of take it back to the loneliness piece and what we were talking about again. That psychological safety sounds like that foundation. And then we need to figure out how to build connection among employees right. And so what are the results that you have seen from businesses who have done this really well? I know you spoken to some of those things, but what are the what are the things that they have done well, and then what are the results of those things been? So, first and foremost that you really have to look at the companies who do it well. They have loyalty. They I mean they have somebody who’s like. My experience there was positive. They were willing to hear and listen. That that that’s a very important part. But I could share my ideas and even if we didn’t agree, we could have a really meaningful conversation and it wasn’t put down. So I was listened to, I felt heard. And then the other part of it is, I don’t know, I will to say this. Part of it is they create a culture outside of work, the employees do. They create a culture where they go to lunch together, they spend their time together that’s not work related, and those are the Times where we start to see this increase in productivity because we’re just we’re a team and we’re bonding together, which gives me to another point. If you have teams in your organization and they’re working on a project, you can actually create questions that help them step by step, you know, work through what’s our goal, what’s our objective? What am I going to bring to this team? And as you develop those types of questions, then they’re contributing and everybody needs a purpose and if they’ve got a purpose in their contributing, it’s just much better for your company and your organization. Makes Total Sense. Doctor Skinner, this has been such an excellent conversation. I really appreciate you joining and sharing some of these insights with us today on this super important topic of loneliness in the workplace, which I think so many businesses, especially in the last few years, have started to face with their employee. So thank you for sharing your insights with us. We kind of wrap up here. One question I like to ask all of our guests on the show that may or may not be necessarily related to our topic, is what’s just one tip, one thing that you’d recommend that our listeners do this week to help improve their HR or people functions. Because we’re talking about loneliness, let me offer this. Find an employee who’s struggling and identified. Could they be lonely? Just find somebody who’s maybe not producing or well, just ask the simple question of them. How are you doing and how is the environment here at work? Can you give me some feedback, because I’m trying to understand more of how work is for you. Just by identify a single employe and do that with one employee’ll be surprised at what you hear. I love it. Such a great tip. Thank you so much again for joining the show today. If there are listeners that have follow up questions on this topic for you, or if they want to learn more about noble health and the APP that you provide another resources, what’s the best way for them to do that? Yeah, so I’m more than willing to give my email. It’s K skinner, some letter case skinner at Noble got health and I’m I loved. I love talking about this concept of a how to address loneliness because I believe we’re relational beings and we need to figure that part out and we need to be better relationships but in terms of the noble health APP, I mean if you’re dealing with any form of getting support mental health issues or if you’re an organization, we invite you to contact our team. We, we, I mean we’re working with small businesses, we’re working with large government agencies, supporting them and their work. Our goal is to provide mental health resources to people who don’t have access us. There is a mental health therapist shortage and we’re trying to fill that gap. Love it such a again noble mission for Noble Company. So thank you for for working on that. So thank you so much. We will drop your your email and all of that information into the show notes that you’re listening to this. Don’t worry about having to write it down quickly. Just go and find it and show notes to can find it theirself. Doctors can. Thank you again for taking the time to day. Hope you have a great rest of the day. Hey, thank you very much. You’re very nice to talk with you today. Enduring companies know that their people are their most important assets and they invest in helping them excel. 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