The Loneliness of Work in the Digital Age

Article main image
Mar 26, 2020
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

Emma is a hardworking professional who has a graduate degree from a prestigious institution and works in the marketing department of a well-known firm. She is passionate about her work and consistently displays positive attributes that enable her to shine among her peers. She has a wonderful husband and two lovely kids. She has a large circle of friends and enjoys socializing with them.

However, she has a secret that nobody knows: Her male supervisor, who is also ‘happily’ married, has been making persistent sexual advances towards her and threatened to derail her career if she doesn’t comply with his demands. She can’t switch to another organization since her supervisor is not willing to give a good reference. Her husband doesn’t earn enough to maintain their current standard of living on his own, and there are no guarantees that his job is secure as his organization explores transformation initiatives.

The economy is robust and progressing at a fast pace, but good, well-paying jobs are hard to secure. She feels the suffocating burden of choosing between the silence for sustaining career prospects and vocalizing her pain as a whistleblower for appropriate remedial actions that can scar her professional opportunities in the future. Her health is suffering as a consequence, although she is composed in public.

Her husband has noticed subtle changes in her demeanor as she wanders off in deep reflection while having a normal conversation, but she laughs it off as tiredness resulting from a busy day at work. Her children sometimes complain that she doesn’t play with them as frequently; however, her husband comes to her rescue that Mommy is tired from work.

She feels trapped and victimized by her circumstances. Sound familiar? Close to reality? How many ‘Emmas’ are out there?

Loneliness goes beyond “Me Too”

James has switched jobs from a small local firm to a multinational that is considered an industry leader. He is excited to make his mark as a software developer and is enamored by the plethora of available resources to facilitate his skills. He was lured to the new employer by the promise of performance-driven career progression, a good salary package, and the chance to be at the cutting-edge of technology.

However, he has started to question his decision recently after the euphoria of onboarding subsided, and the work began in earnest. He is struggling to become visible among his peers as there are just too many of them, and everyone seems to be just as talented as him. Additionally, his supervisor is also a newcomer, and she is in the process of gaining a firm footing in the organization herself. The pressure to perform is intense since his supervisor wants to excel among her peers and executives to justify her hiring. Consequently, she is demanding long hours of work and is rarely tolerant of any mistakes in the assigned task that may jeopardize their deadlines.

He misses the calming influence of his previous supervisor at his last employer despite the attractive pay package and the resources provided by his present employer, including free food, leisure rooms, meditation facilities, team sports, etc. He sees a disconnect between the trumpeted values-driven culture and the manifested on-job reality of keeping pace with the demanding work environment. He knows how lucky he is to be working for such a prestigious organization since there is no shortage of talent willing to take his place, evidenced by the long line of applicants at job fairs.

His company is regularly featured as one of the great places to work, and his friends envy him for having made it to the top tier of employers in his industry. His family is delighted for him and reminds him often how proud they are of him for being in such a prime position for a successful career. He can’t let them down, and the thought of failure haunts him during sleepless nights. His previous job has already been filled, and his former supervisor gives his example to incoming talent on how to carve out a fruitful strategy for sustainable career progression.

He has started to age noticeably, and his mother keeps gushing to his relatives on how mature he has become after joining a world-class organization. The stress lines have visibly burrowed into his forehead, and he has become more measured in his social interactions. He hasn’t confided to anyone about his inner turmoil and has recently applauded his present employer on an employee survey in terms of how happy he is to be part of such a caring and progressive organization. Sound familiar? Close to reality? How many ‘Jameses’ are out there?

The misery of silence in a digital age

The examples mentioned above have been provided to gain an insight into the kind of challenges being faced by professionals in the digital age within seemingly progressive organizations that routinely tout the effectiveness of their talent management practices, especially, to project and reinforce a strong employer brand for attracting the cream of the crop talent. Such actions come at the cost of having a blind spot to the judgment of employees who tend to maintain a dignified silence on thorny issues that might put them in the crosshairs of management. The infectious misery of silence permeates the corporate landscape, and it is leading to severe consequences of poor health and decreased well-being for professionals striving to stay relevant.

Employees look to their leadership for vision, direction, role modeling, and inspiration. However, if their confidence is not redeemed by leadership that is committed to evolving workplace dynamics, then any attempt made to instill a sense of purpose to overcome challenges becomes an exercise in futility. The remedy for avoiding brinkmanship requires an honest self-appraisal and venturing into the dark alleys of the organization to realize the sources of real discontent. Only then can organizations take transparent, accommodative, and prudent steps proactively to alleviate discord before embarking upon any transformation initiative for sustaining relevancy and competitiveness in the digital age.

Good employers show metrics for employee happiness as proof of the effectiveness of engagement initiatives. Outstanding employers let employees define happiness for themselves by facilitating a work environment bolstered by ingrained core values and effectively implemented, employee-friendly policies that are visible and judicious. Consequently, don’t forget to listen to the silence while you are habitually tuned to hear the noise within your organization. Let the silence speak to you.

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!