A Culture of Loneliness

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

(“Eleanor Rigby,” The Beatles)

Feeling lonely has inspired many famous musicians to croon their way straight to the bank! But, in senior living, loneliness has team members singing the blues and leaders in the red. Maybe you have never thought of this before as a leader, but loneliness strongly influences your staffing struggles and impacts your bottom line. 

(“One is the loneliest number,” Three Dog Night.)

Chances are you have greatly considered loneliness in regards to your residents. And you made it a priority to prevent it by having a robust activities program led by a peppy, creative Director, armed with a calendar filled with every possible senior-appropriate recreation under the sun. 

(“All by Myself,” Celine Dion)

But your residents aren’t the only ones you should be fretting about when it comes to feeling lonely. According to a new study by Cigna, three in five Americans reported feeling lonely, poorly understood, lacking companionship, and left out. The survey found that how someone felt in their work environment had a strong influence on their overall loneliness. 

(“So Lonely,” The Police)

People with good coworker relationships, especially those with a close friend at work, were significantly less lonely. So were those who reported a good work/life balance and those who felt like they shared goals with their coworkers. Folks were more likely to feel lonely as a newer hire (under 6 months of employment) when compared to those with longer work tenure. 

(“Only the Lonely,” Roy Orbison)

Sharing our lives with others through meaningful interactions, connections, and conversations, are the stuff that fulfills! Belongingness, to someone or something, is a huge motivator for behavior in the workplace. People are innately driven to seek out connections with others to feel fulfilled. Without strong human connections, sayonara! I am moving on to see what else is out there! 

So, you just need to grow, foster, and leverage great relationships in your organization. Not such an easy task when team members don’t stick around long enough to get to know their names.

(“Hey There Lonely Girl,” Eddie Holman)

How can you feel lonely surrounded by all these people?

Very few positions in senior living put a team member behind closed doors with little human interaction. Bustling hallways, kitchens, dining rooms, and recreation rooms make for interactions galore in our workplaces! There are people actually living where we work, after all! BUT, the kicker is, we can’t get staffing right because we can’t get culture right. 

(“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” Bob Dylan)

With high turnover in the average senior living organization, team members don’t get the opportunity to form bonds with each other. Turnover acts as a giant, heavy, revolving door. (You know the kind, where you think you might lose an arm or a leg going through it.) People coming in, people going out. In a state of constant flux, team members become siloed and work in survival mode. The skeleton crew plus the unfamiliar reinforcements lack the camaraderie and cohesion of tried and true workplace relationships (and friendships). Collaboration, accountability, trustful relationships, and teamwork fall victim in this vicious cycle of turnover.  

(“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Hank Williams)

Resident and team member bonds can’t form like they should either. Continuity of care and true patient-centered care are sacrificed with turnover and the resultant onslaught of unfamiliar faces. Deep caring bonds—truly knowing and understanding each other—are replaced by hurried hiring and rushed training in an attempt to put warm bodies in open positions. 

(“Owner of a Lonely Heart,” YES)

The incentive to leaders

A lonely and unfulfilled team member is more likely to call out, become disengaged, and look for a new job. A loss that depletes your time, money and resources, and chips away at your personal fulfillment as a leader. The incentive is huge for leaders like you to focus on organizational culture and address the disconnects that feed the staffing turnover machine.

Being intentional with culture allows you to build beautiful human connections reinforced by shared values, common goals, and unified visions. Healthy culture is made even stronger by tapping into employee referrals from your finest team members. By utilizing relationships that are already established, your employees naturally want to thrive and grow roots where they work. Through these efforts, you also minimize that new-hire loneliness and help stabilize the precarious first 90-day period where anything can happen. (Thanks for the training, but I got to go! Ugh, you had such high hopes for that one.) 

There are so many layers to the human cost of turnover, and loneliness for staff is just one of them. The sum of all these layers is the ultimate sad song with impacts on the seniors you serve and the staff within your organization. The first and most impactful thing you can do as a leader is to analyze your staffing data. The numbers have a funny way of inspiring action when all else fails to do so. 

The soundtrack in senior living has got to change, and Drive can help get your organization singing a different tune, a love song about culture, of course!

If you would like to read more about the Cigna Loneliness Study click here!