Last November, some members of the red10 team attended the first national conference in London of The Silver Line, the charity established in 2013 by Ester Rantzen to help combat loneliness. We learned a lot.
It is easy to assume that people who end up lonely and disconnected have never had children, never worked actively in the community, never had prolonged employment with an employer, never had an extensive network of friends or held positions of authority and power. But this is far from the truth.
We heard at the conference of individuals who had many of the above and about a few who had all of the above but who now, in their old age, when they need connection the most are, in fact, isolated and lonely.
One of the 9 Dimensions of Leadership Development® is Connection – it was therefore of particular interest to us that despite the extent of connection many people had had in their lives, they were ending up with so little.
American Researcher, Dr. Brene Brown, in her book ‘Daring greatly’ suggests that connection is what gives meaning to our lives. (A good read, by the way, if you are interested in self-development.)
I have come to believe that one of the factors inhibiting connection is the delusion many of us have of individuality – especially in the workplace. Unless we are a poet or an artist determined to die poor and alone in our garret (and I have met a couple), work, for most of us, is about connection with other people. Our work may offer meaning through its intrinsic value but for most of us, it will mean nothing if no one ever sees it, benefits from it or has the chance to love or hate it. So it is the impact of our work on other people that really matters.
Connection is the bottom line of engagement. We can measure the extent to which we would recommend our company down the pub or whether we are satisfied with our pay, but, in the final analysis, we need to feel that we belong, that who we are and what we do, matters to other people.
No wonder then that for so many of the UK’s million elderly people who live alone, The Silver Line is actually a life line. Because when we do not belong and we do not matter, our spirits and bodies die. Organisations still have a long way to go in understanding the real meaning of engagement and translating that into company practices.