Global Diversity Partners


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✆ 1+ 425-941-6073

“Onliness” and the Power of Connection

The isolation from friends, family, and co-workers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the critical importance of our human connections. Loneliness and mental health issues caused by this isolation can be as devastating as COVID-19 itself. This historical event has given so many of us a new opportunity to better appreciate the effects of loneliness.

However, people outside the primary demographic of your organization have likely felt varying degrees of loneliness for a long time – long before COVID-19. When you’re ‘the only one’ on the team, it’s difficult to feel you belong. If you’re the only Black woman, the only transgender team member, the only employee with a disability in the group, you are less likely to feel a connection to teammates. Being ‘the only one’ is such a common dynamic for historically marginalized people there’s a name for it, “Onliness”.

When employees feel isolated and alone, it makes it more challenging for them to perform at the same level as those employees who feel a connection. It’s especially important for leaders to understand that employees that don’t feel supported when advocacy, coaching, or mentoring is most needed, are not included in lunch or after work social activities or are the last to find out about decisions impacting them directly, will end up feeling more isolated and alone. Ultimately, there’s a greater likelihood their morale will drop, they’ll become less motivated, take less risk, be less creative, and may ultimately leave, either by their choice or yours.

The experience of working from home during COVID-19 provides an opportunity to appreciate and better understand the common experience of historically marginalized groups. Employees can better appreciate the importance of the human connection to employee health and building a high-performance team.

In addition, when leaders share their own personal experience with isolation, loneliness, and even depression they demonstrate vulnerability, and this vulnerability will draw them closer to their employees, especially those historically marginalized people. All of your employees will feel safer being vulnerable with you, knowing you can empathize with them.  Vulnerability-based trust is a core construct in the work of Patrick Lencioni (“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”) and Brené Brown (“Daring Greatly”) in creating human connection and in developing high performance teams.

I encourage leaders to prioritize growing an inclusive culture where employees feel connected to you and to each of their teammates. Creating a connected culture starts with you, and specifically, utilizing one-on-one meetings as a critical mechanism to achieve employee connection. One-to-one meetings provide a unique opportunity to connect with your employees at a deeper level. In next month’s blog, we’ll cover “10 Steps to Inclusive 1:1 Meetings”.

Copyright © 2021 Jonathan Stutz