The unhappiest jobs in the world are also the loneliest. This is what a Harvard study conducted over a period of 85 years has found. Job satisfaction, the study shows, is directly proportional to how much one interacts with one’s teammates. Could this explain why the pandemic-induced work-from-home model precipitated several worrying trends like the ‘great resignation’ and ‘conscious quitting’? Over 47 million people resigned from their jobs in the United States of America alone. But most workers who left their jobs during the pandemic — 80% of them, according to some estimates — revealed that they regretted it once the pandemic was over. Unsurprisingly, among the worst hit by this epidemic of loneliness are those in the information technology industry, where many jobs have been mechanised, leaving workers in the company of machines instead of humans. There are, of course, jobs that are inherently lonely — from food delivery executives, to undercover intelligence operatives to the president of the United States of America, loneliness does not discriminate.
This is not to say that remote work does not have some happiness benefits, and not just for employers looking to cut office costs either. For people living in congested cities, for example, commuting is time-consuming and soul-crushing; it is one of the daily activities that stimulate most unhappiness — think of a Calcutta Metro ride in rush hour or a congested Mumbai local train. However, aggravation from commuting is no match for the misery of loneliness, which can lead to depression, substance abuse, sedentary behaviour, and damaged relationships, among other ills. Work is where many people have the bulk of their social interactions. In a recent survey, 70% of employees said friendships at their workplaces are the most important element of a happy work life. None of this should come as a shock. In his Politics, Aristotle claimed, “A man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so … must be either a lower animal or a god.” And this is a well-documented scientific truth, not just a philosophical one. Isolating oneself from others is aberrant to human nature, making thriving impossible. Nothing, in short, can beat gossiping with a friendly colleague or ranting against a tyrant of a boss to someone who truly understands. What makes things worse is the intense competition prompted by a beleaguered economy and widespread unemployment. One can hardly be friendly with colleagues if they are constantly seen as threats in a job-insecure environment.
But loneliness existed long before the current pandemic. In fact, social isolation was found to be more lethal than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity, according to research by Brigham Young University. In reality, loneliness has less to do with being alone and much more to do with the experience of feeling unseen. As much as it makes one feel alone, loneliness is a shared experience. The more this idea can be normalised, the easier people will find it to deal with loneliness. A kind or friendly word to a delivery executive, a shared joke with the solitary security guard, and not rudely disconnecting the call of a telemarketer can go a long way in mitigating this crisis. Regular social gatherings with colleagues help too. None needs to plough a lonely furrow when they can reach out to someone doing the same thing.