One expert explains how to make more meaningful friendships at work.
Cultivating meaningful connections with others amidst today’s high-tech, hyper-busy, and remote-working culture will be one of the steepest and most important challenges we face in the coming years.
To better understand the current and future frontier of connection and how we might cultivate stronger friendships, I interviewed Jeremy Fojut, co-founder and CEO of Rivet. Rivet is an AI-powered workplace connection platform that aims to use neurology and the science of friendship to spark meaningful relationships.
Ryan Jenkins: What are some common misconceptions about human connection?
Jeremy Fojut: A common misconception is the difference between loneliness and chronic loneliness. It’s normal to occasionally feel lonely for short periods of time, but when those periods of time become longer, and you have constant and unrelenting feelings of being alone and an inability to connect on a deeper level, even while being surrounded by people, that is chronic loneliness.
Many more people are suffering from chronic loneliness now because of the pandemic, but don’t realize it because they don’t understand the nature of the disorder.
Another large misconception I am seeing in the workplace is assuming all people connect the same. Some employers returning to the office are trying to lure employees to the same type of “forced fun” events that happened pre-pandemic, e.g., happy hours, big outings, picnics. While these activities can be fun for some, it often doesn’t feel like that for the majority.
Jenkins: What’s contributing to the growing loneliness across the globe?
Fojut: Obviously, the pandemic has greatly contributed to the growing disconnect and social isolation we’re seeing throughout the world, but the truth is loneliness was rising across the globe before the pandemic. The rise of social media and other online platforms that divide and alienate us creates a lack of connection while masquerading as the opposite. We’re losing serendipity—we use phones and WiFi to make every decision in our life, and we no longer get the kind of accidental happenstance that leads to human connection that we used to.
Even city infrastructure can contribute to our loneliness. The way we have designed cities means we spend more time alone in the car, having fewer micro-interactions with strangers and acquaintances. The rise in delivery culture will continue to foster less connection as well.
Jenkins: How is disconnection impacting people’s health and well-being?
Fojut: Disconnection and loneliness have a huge impact on people’s health—both physical and mental. Isolation can cause or worsen mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and substance misuse.
But there are changes to your physical body, too. Studies show that social isolation is linked to changes in brain structure and cognition, and it carries an increased risk of dementia in older adults. Heart failure patients who are socially isolated are at a 68 percent increased risk of hospitalization and are almost four times more likely to die. And, according to the National Institute on Aging, the health risks of chronic isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
People who are disconnected from others are at a real risk of negatively impacting their physical, psychological, and emotional well-being.
Jenkins: What do you recommend people do to spark more connections in work and life?
Fojut: In the workplace, companies need to start peer-relationship programs (also known as buddy programs) and mentorship programs. I would also focus more on building diverse accountability cohorts that focus on personal goals inside the company.
It’s also important to find ways to get more face-to-face dialogue with people, whether that means meeting friends or coworkers for coffee, doing more in-person meetings and fewer phone calls, and scheduling quarterly team events. Keeping the lines of communication open in all aspects of life is key—it can be really easy to isolate, but our work and mental health improve greatly when we make a concerted effort to reach out to others and engage with them beyond a phone screen or social media app.
To connect in a more personal way, I would set a monthly goal of getting outside your comfort zone. We tend to be creatures of habit. Every month I have a series of things I want to engage with that aren’t part of my routine. You will end up connecting with new people and learning interesting things.