How to Decrease Loneliness at Work with Ryan Jenkins - Bestselling Workplace Loneliness Author

27 Mar 2022

The people behind the voices:

Ryan Jenkins

Author, Keynote Speaker and Thought Leader

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

The Employee Experience Podcast Ep. 9

How to Decrease Loneliness at Work with Ryan Jenkins

This week’s guest on The Employee Experience Podcast is Ryan Jenkins, WSJ Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker and #1 Thought Leader on Workplace Loneliness

Ryan Jenkins, CSP® (Certified Speaking Professional)™ is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and a Wall Street Journal bestselling author on the topics of leadership, generational differences, workplace loneliness, and the future of work.

For a decade Ryan has inspired and equipped audiences with the necessary insights and tools to succeed in the new era of work. Here he speaks about loneliness in the workplace and what we can do to ensure no one gets left behind.

Ryan has helped organizations lessen worker loneliness, optimize generational dynamics, and prepare for the future of work. Ryan’s top-ranked insights have been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and The Wall Street Journal.

About The Employee Experience Podcast

The Employee Experience Podcast, hosted by Gillian French, is the podcast series for leaders pursuing innovative ideas to engage and connect with their employees. We’ll speak to leaders about how to best connect with employees, build healthy cultures and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their potential.

Guests so far on Season 1 of The Employee Experience Podcast include:

  • Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at Vayner Media, on building the best human empire
  • Leslie Caputo, People Scientist at Humu, on empowering people to improve themselves
  • Gary Keegan, CEO at Uppercut, on the secret to elevating performance (Part One)
  • Gary Keegan, CEO at Uppercut, on the secret to elevating performance (Part Two)
  • Niamh Gunn, CEO of the Dialogue Code, on creating a workplace for Humane Leadership
  • Dave Ulrich, the father of Modern HR on shaping how people and organizations deliver value
  • Scott McInnes, Founder of Inspiring Change, on engaging people to build a great culture
  • Stan Slap, Author and CEO on the secrets to building a world-class company culture
  • Margaret Heffernan, bestselling Author and CEO on how to improve the Global Employee Experience
Full Transcript

Gillian French (00:02):
Hi, I’m Gillian French from Workvivo. You’re very welcome to The Employee Experience Podcast. We speak to leaders about how to best connect with employees, build healthy cultures, and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their potential.

Gillian French (00:19):
This week on The Employee Experience Podcast, I spoke to Ryan Jenkins, who’s an internationally recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and author. For a decade he has helped organizations such as Coca-Cola, Salesforce, The Home Depot, and Delta Air Lines optimize generational dynamics, which lessen worker loneliness and prepare for the future of work.

Gillian French (00:40):
Ryan’s top-ranked insights have been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and The Wall Street Journal. Ryan has written over 200 articles for Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur magazine. He has written three books, The Millennial Manual, The Generation Z Guide, and his latest book is Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In.

Gillian French (01:07):
Hi Ryan. Lovely to have you on the show today, and my congratulations on your book, Connectable. Sounds like it’s going to be a roaring success.

Ryan Jenkins (01:15):
We’ve debuted number seven on The Wall Street Journal bestseller.

Gillian French (01:18):
Wow. That is an amazing achievement. Congratulations.

Ryan Jenkins (01:21):
Thank you. Appreciate it.

Gillian French (01:23):
And a really, really interesting topic. I actually can’t believe that at this point there hasn’t been a workplace book written on loneliness. When I saw it, it really did connect with me because I think it’s something that has to be talked about, and it’s a hard thing to talk about. So maybe we’ll start off with what is your definition of loneliness in the workplace?

Ryan Jenkins (01:47):
Workplace loneliness, we define it as the distress caused by the perceived inadequacy of a quality connection to teammates, leaders, and the organization itself. So to take one step further back, the definition of loneliness, it’s not the absence of people like many would think, it’s actually the absence of connection.

Ryan Jenkins (02:08):
So the connection to oneself, connection to your team members, leaders in the organization, the work itself, the organizational culture, you can think about purpose, there’s all these different connection points. And that’s why we wanted to write a book about workplace loneliness because work is the most fertile ground for us to tackle this epidemic that is loneliness.

Ryan Jenkins (02:29):
It was growing before the pandemic, the pandemic put a big spotlight on it, accelerated loneliness during the pandemic, and it continues to be growing. Which can be somewhat good news because since it is growing, that means it’s valuable and thus it can also decrease. And as we’ll talk about I’m sure in our conversation today, that there’s just subtle things that we can do, simple pro-social behaviors that we can all do to lessen loneliness and create more belonging and thus improve the performance in our organization, and the health of those inside the organization as well.

Gillian French (03:06):
There’s an interesting word you used within that definition, perceived. Is that an important component of the definition? As in it’s my perception, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the case, so to speak.

Ryan Jenkins (03:18):
Yes. Loneliness can be very subjective, and it’s not something we talked about, as you mentioned. It’s been shrouded in shame for far too long. And one of the reasons why we’re excited to approach this topic is to de stigmatize it. Because it’s not shameful, it’s simply just a signal. It’s the signal that we belong together.

Ryan Jenkins (03:42):
It’s akin to hunger. You have a sensation of hunger, well, that’s your cue to eat something. If you have a sensation of loneliness, well, that’s your cue to go strike a connection. So it shouldn’t be shrouded in shame, but it has been. And it’s only till pretty recently that we’ve really started to unpack loneliness, and figured out where it shows up in our brain and how it’s impacting our mental and physical wellbeing.

Ryan Jenkins (04:06):
So we don’t know a lot about it, and because we don’t talk a lot about it, I don’t think we’re equipped to understand, is it loneliness that we’re feeling or is it burnout? Is it depression that we’re feeling or is it loneliness? Did loneliness cause the depression? Does depression cause loneliness?

Ryan Jenkins (04:21):
So I think again, we need to start talking about it more, and start to dig into it a little bit more so that we can start having these handles. And it comes back to your question around the perceived. We don’t know much about it, which seems silly that we should know a lot about it in the day and age that we live in. But we don’t, and so this is why it’s such a fun conversation.

Ryan Jenkins (04:42):
And when we picked off this conversation, I began researching the topic of loneliness. Anytime I’d bring it up with somebody, they’d always just lean in because it’s a universal human condition, we all experience it, but we haven’t talked about it. So folks are finally ready to talk about it, and it’s exciting to see folks leaning in.

Ryan Jenkins (05:00):
And I think they’re pleasantly surprised at the approach that the book takes and that our organization takes to try to make it much more accessible than the gloomy topic that it’s been perceived as for all these years.

Gillian French (05:15):
I think the fact everyone leans in because it’s something they can relate to. Every one of us have experienced it at some time in our lives. And if someone says they haven’t, they’re lying. Be it in school or in work or whatever, we’ve all experienced loneliness. So we want to lean in to understand more.

Gillian French (05:30):
And I read somewhere in your research that 72% of global workers experience it at some point within a month, loneliness in the workplace. That just seems unbelievable stats. Do you think that’s down to the fact that, and again, probably maybe a bit of an Irish view, but probably more of a global view as well, the fact that a lot of our communities like church, a lot of people aren’t attending church anymore. A lot of people are working, so they don’t see their neighbors.

Gillian French (05:59):
That community where we may have gotten community connection isn’t there anymore. Is it that we’re experiencing it now more so in work because work has become more important to us and more of a community than maybe people had experienced years ago?

Ryan Jenkins (06:16):
When we started the research, we went and surveyed over 2000 global workers, and you’re right. We found that 72% of them said that they experience loneliness at least monthly, and 55% said they experience it at least weekly, which was pretty astounding. But the crux of it, and again, we researched and we asked people, “What do you believe contributes most to yours or others’ loneliness?”

Ryan Jenkins (06:39):
And the top two responses were business, and technology and social media. Those were the top two responses. Research shows that time constraints severely limit our willingness to engage with others, so we all seem to be busier now than ever before. There’s so many things that we can engage ourselves in, and we call it the catch of convenience. We have a tendency as humans to navigate towards convenience.

Ryan Jenkins (07:10):
And when we do that, when we choose convenience, there’s typically a cost to that. And that cost is typically social. So the example we use in the book is we look at ATMs, automated teller machine. When those were introduced… It used to be a social gathering when you would go to a bank to deposit your paycheck. And people would linger and connect and you could talk with a bank teller or other customers.

Ryan Jenkins (07:37):
Well, then the ATM was introduced and all that went away. This isn’t a slam against technology per se because it’s useful to us, but at the very least, it should be a big reminder that the more convenience that we seek and that we go after, we need to be, whatever time that we’re saving with that convenience, prioritizing some human connection because it’s vital.

Ryan Jenkins (08:02):
We argue it’s the most vital thing. It’s not the most urgent need of humanity, but it is the most significant need that we have as a species, is a sense of belonging and to connect with one another. So it’s so important that we do that. So we have to constantly now more than ever, because there’s so much noise, there’s so much opportunity for us to one click buying and meal delivery and contact less this and that.

Ryan Jenkins (08:27):
It’s easy for us to just drift into that convenience, and we’ll find ourselves isolated, frustrated, alone, ill, because of it. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re really vigilant about creating those boundaries.

Gillian French (08:42):
Wow. Really interesting. And I know that you did a lot of research with different multi-generational employees. Did you find that there was one particular generation that was maybe lonelier than another, and was that what prompted your research?

Ryan Jenkins (08:58):
Yes. So for the last decade, I’ve been in the future of workspace. Most of that has consisted of me researching the emerging generations to help organizations unpack and understand what the future of work’s going to look like as these emerging generations enter the workforce. And I stumbled across my last book, which was all about generation Z, the youngest generation entering the workforce or generation Z, and discovered that they were the loneliest generation.

Ryan Jenkins (09:24):
The numbers were extremely high, alarmingly high. I found that so troubling, so I wanted to figure out why that was, and what we could do to help this generation. And that was pre-pandemic. So then the pandemic happened and I brought all this loneliness research to a lot of my corporate clients thinking, “I don’t think they’re going to want to talk about loneliness, but let’s see,” and I was dead wrong.

Ryan Jenkins (09:45):
Everyone wanted to talk about it, and that’s what kicked off this really in-depth research. Gen Z is still the loneliest generation according to our research, but not by much. Loneliness is no respecter of age, race, ethnicity, location. It’s none of that. We all experience it. Because again, it’s a biological cue. It’s nature’s nudge to us that we belong together. But still, gen Z is struggling with it more so than the elderly community, which is really astounding.

Gillian French (10:18):
Well, maybe they’re not as busy. Business is a key component. They probably have a bit more time to try and make those connections. So sense of belonging is really important, and we’re seeing so much research now that employees are emotionally disconnected from the workplace. It’s a really, really core component.

Gillian French (10:37):
A lot of leaders are looking at how do they create that with employees? How do they get them to understand they belong to the organization or create an environment where people feel they can belong and flourish? What is your research? I know you’ve a lot of science behind it, and I’d love to talk to you about that.

Ryan Jenkins (10:55):
I think what stands out to most folks is this recent research that we covered in the book, where they put these groups of individuals through an experience of exclusion, and they monitored their brains during this experience, and their brains unshockingly lit up. But where the brain lit up was really telling. And it was the same part of the brain that actually registers physical pain.

Ryan Jenkins (11:17):
So when we experience detachment, when we experience isolation and loneliness, our body’s actually processing it as if we’re getting socked in the gut. That there’s some physical ailment happening. So this is our case to everyone working and specifically leaders that this isn’t a soft topic. This is a very dire topic.

Ryan Jenkins (11:38):
Because if you want your workforce to show up fully at work and to deliver for your customers and clients and your fellow team members, this is something we’ve got to address because it’s as if they’re showing up to work with a bleeding appendage and that’s got their full attention and they’re not able to deliver.

Ryan Jenkins (11:56):
That’s why this creating this sense of belonging is so crucial. And of course, more and more organizations are hyper focused on how do we keep this talent during these times? And that’s a tremendous way too, is how we foster this sense of belonging, where they can’t wait to go to work, or be involved to the team and contribute to a worthwhile goal.

Ryan Jenkins (12:15):
So that’s why it’s really important to cultivate this, and I’ll give you one strategy. It’s around creating psychological safety, which I’m sure you and many others are familiar with. It’s this idea of making folks feel safe that they can be seen and heard at work. The reason why that’s so important is because the fundamental question that is coercing through every human’s body, research tells us our body is asking it five times per second, and that question is, am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe?

Ryan Jenkins (12:52):
Our body’s constantly asking that. Of course, we’re unconscious of it, but we’re constantly monitoring our surroundings to decide and decipher if we are safe. And so what would it look like for an organization that could quiet that internal voice, and that could make people feel like they were fully safe? What kind of innovation? What kind of collaboration? What kind of better communication can spring forth from that?

Ryan Jenkins (13:18):
I think we would all agree that would be a great place. So one way to create psychological safety, specifically for leaders, is to speak last. Whether you’re in a meeting or in some other environments, is hold your opinion, hold your vision, hold your thoughts for the end of the conversation. Because inevitably what happens and what we see time and time again, is leaders will set the agenda and they’re so driven and visionary, that they’ll just say what their thoughts are, then they’ll ask everyone else what their thoughts is.

Ryan Jenkins (13:51):
And of course that whole meeting’s now tilted towards that leader’s perspective and they’re going to fall in line. So instead hold your tongue, and allow everyone to bring their ideas to the table. That creates psychological safety because it’s when proportionate conversations can be heard, when everyone has the space and the time to actually bring something to the table and share something.

Ryan Jenkins (14:14):
So that’s one simple way to create more psychological safety, create the sense of belonging, which ultimately lessens loneliness.

Gillian French (14:22):
Wow. And it’s so precious. I was talking to someone recently about engagement. And my observations are these type of things like trust, a person’s engagement with the organization, the psychological safety, all it takes is one really ill thought, a bad meeting, or a leader to lose the cool. And if you’re telling me it’s every five… What is it? Five times a second?

Ryan Jenkins (14:46):
Five times per second.

Gillian French (14:48):
That we’re going out [inaudible 00:14:49] danger. I presume it takes a while to reset then or to build that back up if there’s been an incident or there’s been something that puts shock waves. I’m thinking mass redundancy, or some people get fired, or something happens in the organization, or a leader has an outburst.

Gillian French (15:05):
It would take time for the organization to reset and get back to that. That’s as well for a leader to think that you have all of these people in your organization that are doing that every five seconds. Wow.

Ryan Jenkins (15:19):
And we’ve all experienced that. That’s what trust is between relationships. When that trust is broken, it takes time to mend it, and so it’s so fragile. In the book, we put 50 illustrations, many of which are humorous illustrations. And the goal there was to make the content very accessible. Because we wanted to make this topic approachable because it hasn’t been for all these years.

Ryan Jenkins (15:45):
But one of the images that we shared in there was this idea of teamwork and all the bricks that are trust, and accountability, and results. All these things that make up an effective team. But the mortar in between those bricks is belonging. And so you can’t have a strong wall unless you have that mortar in between all those bricks.

Ryan Jenkins (16:07):
I think that’s a good way to think about belonging. That it has to be there and it runs throughout, and it’s got to be everywhere. It’s something that you’ve got to work at to keep strong in the organization.

Gillian French (16:19):
And I’m sure it effects other teammates too. So if I’m part of a team and there’s five or six of us and I don’t feel I belong, or maybe Tony doesn’t feel he belongs, that has to impact the overall team. So it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure our teammates are feeling connected. And for us to work with someone, you always actually know when someone on the team isn’t really fully bought in or doesn’t belong. It throws the whole team off, doesn’t it?

Ryan Jenkins (16:44):
Yeah. And we actually found on the research too that loneliness is contagious. That if you begin to start feeling isolated or detached, well, you turn inward. Which is the opposite of what you should be doing. You should be turning outward to create those connections. But you turn inward making yourself less approachable, thus making it less likely that anyone else is going to engage with you.

Ryan Jenkins (17:05):
And that then deteriorates the connection points of the other group, and it just tends to spiral downward if we’re not careful. Again, we’ve been encouraged by so many folks that have been leaning into this topic and the book because it’s not just for you if you’re experiencing loneliness. It’s a great resource to decrease your loneliness. But it’s also a great way to start familiarizing yourself with folks on the team that might be experiencing it and bringing those people back into the organization.

Ryan Jenkins (17:36):
We’re only as strong and as unified as our loneliest member on the team, so it’s really important that we all run this together. And so how do we identify those and start bringing people in? Because that’s the tough thing about loneliness. It’s like a snake that eats itself. You’ll just continue to go inward, which is the opposite of what you need. And so oftentimes we need people outside of us that can reunite us with our tribe.

Gillian French (18:04):
Wow. I really like that. So how do we approach it? I’m in work and maybe I spot that someone isn’t themselves and they’re withdrawing. How do I approach it in an appropriate manner and not put my foot in it? Because it’s an awkward thing to approach with somebody.

Ryan Jenkins (18:22):
There’s a section in the book where we talk about Movember, which I’m not sure if it’s celebrated in the US.

Gillian French (18:31):
[crosstalk 00:18:31] it is, yeah.

Ryan Jenkins (18:33):
They grow the mustache. So they’re bringing awareness to curing cancer by growing mustaches. They’re not talking about cancer necessarily. And so we make this similar case for loneliness. If you want to lessen loneliness, you don’t have to talk about it. We would encourage you to do so because people are ready to talk about it and it’s not a scary topic. It’s something we all experience.

Ryan Jenkins (18:58):
But if folks aren’t ready to talk about it or approach someone and say, “Are you experiencing loneliness?” There’s just subtle pro-social behaviors you can do, and we share a ton of them in the book. One of which is this idea of asking for advice. So if you’ve seen someone that’s maybe detaching, go to them and present a problem. It could be work related, personal perhaps, and say, “Here’s a situation. If you were me, what would you do?”

Ryan Jenkins (19:21):
So it’s a good way to invite someone in to your world and then gets them thinking about someone else other than themself. And so there’s just subtle little pro-social behaviors that we can do. Another exercise or strategy I like to share is around peer coaching. So it’s finding someone that is a peer of yours, and you engage in coaching sessions that could be weekly, monthly, whatever you choose.

Ryan Jenkins (19:47):
The really helpful part of peer coaching is to make sure it’s non evaluative. And so you take turns. So it’s 50-50. So I share something about just work and life in general and what I’m going through, and then the other person just asks questions. There can be some [inaudible 00:20:04] build if you want, and then you switch it.

Ryan Jenkins (20:06):
And so it’s a really great way to just, again, to open up and to become a little bit more relatable at work, but with some structure. We find a lot of folks find if there’s some structure, just light structure, it gives them the necessary permission to start asking questions, going deeper.

Ryan Jenkins (20:23):
And so that could be a way too, to approach somebody and say, “Hey, I’ve heard about this concept around peer coaching. Would this be something that you and I would be interested in doing?” And then the last thing I would share is prioritizing meals. Biologically, when we share a meal with another human, our walls come down, because we would never share a meal with someone from a threatening tribe.

Ryan Jenkins (20:51):
And so we can actually open up and we can connect stronger and more quickly if we share a meal together, of course, wherever you are, if that’s safe to do so. But that’s a good way. And again, there’s all these ways for us to connect that we’re just underestimating. And the last thing I’ll share, Gillian, that many of our folks find really encouraging is that research shows that it takes as little as 40 seconds to lessen loneliness in a two person interaction.

Ryan Jenkins (21:22):
Just as long as that person feels seen and you’re feeling present in that moment, that’s all it takes. So it doesn’t take much. We just have to be intentional about it, we’ve got to be aware of some of the signs in ourselves and others, and then take slight action.

Gillian French (21:37):
Wow. When you think about that and we say we’re so busy, 40 seconds is so small in the scheme of an eight hour day, that we could take that time to change someone’s physiological makeup. I love the breaking bread because I actually got that as a tip before. When you do presentation, if you actually eat something before you go on stage, your body can’t comprehend that you would be eating if you’re under threat, so it actually reduces your fight or flight. That’s probably what it is. You’re at ease while you’re eating.

Ryan Jenkins (22:10):
That’s fantastic.

Gillian French (22:10):
That’s probably where it came from. So obviously it’s going to cost companies a lot of money if people are lonely. Do you have any stats around what costs we’re looking at for organizations if they don’t address this and it continues within?

Ryan Jenkins (22:27):
Yeah. We have dollar amounts in the book. I can’t remember those offhand, but the other statistics that are very glaring is that lonely workers are seven times less likely to be engaged at work. They’re five times more likely to miss work due to stress or illness, and then they’re twice as likely to think about leaving their employer. So no matter how you slice it, they’re not engaged and they’re not showing up fully.

Ryan Jenkins (22:58):
And I think so often too, again, because this is not a mainstream topic, so often I think people are quickly dismissing, “Hey, I’m experiencing burnout and I need to leave this job.” But in reality, it’s just they need to take some more pro-social behaviors where the organization needs to work a little bit on tightening up that sense of belonging. So I think it can really move the needle in a big way.

Gillian French (23:23):
And I see a trend of people leaving work when and I’m looking at TVs and dealing with people. Every 18 months to two years, there seems to be cycles of movement. And I wonder if that is a case where they’re searching again from organization to organization to see where they can fit in and belong, and loneliness pays a component to that too. What are your thoughts?

Ryan Jenkins (23:47):
I think so. I think we’re probably looking for connection in new places because we’ve been separated for so long, and I think we’re gravitating towards convenience. All this conversation around remote work. We’re talking to so many organizations that are just thinking remote work is here to stay. And I agree with that. It’s here to stay. It works. It worked before the pandemic, it’s going to continue to work moving forward.

Ryan Jenkins (24:21):
But I think we need to pause and take a little bit more of a long look at our plan when it comes to coming back into the office because I think we’re choosing remote work because it’s convenient. And again, there’s those social cost related to that. And so I wonder if some of this job hopping is really our folks looking for something that’s more convenient that fits their lifestyle, et cetera.

Ryan Jenkins (24:50):
And so, I think we need to start questioning and looking into where can I cultivate more connection? And is it a lack of connection that’s causing me to rethink where I work and how I work, et cetera?

Gillian French (25:07):
Do you think we are sleepwalking into maybe a pandemic of loneliness because I would even say myself, and I know you write about introverts and extroverts as well, and I’m highly extroverted. But it’s worked brilliantly for me. In my new setup I bring the kids to school and I get to do things that I didn’t do beforehand.

Gillian French (25:23):
When I went into the office there a couple of weeks ago, my husband, John, said he noticed I was notably different when I came back home from the office. Really full of energy, but he noticed I was different type of energy. And I even felt it myself. It was great to connect with people. We went out for lunch with a great laugh. I learned lots of different things that I wouldn’t know ordinarily that was happening in my local city.

Gillian French (25:45):
So I felt great when I came back after that. I would think I’m still good at getting out and about and connecting with people, but do you think that maybe we’re, after the pandemic, sitting there going, “Oh, this is great to work remote.” And that in 10, 12 months we’ll be like, “Oh good God, what is wrong with me?” Are we sleepwalking into something?

Ryan Jenkins (26:08):
The research shows loneliness is growing, and I think we’re going to find a balance at some point. We’re going to find that balance. The model that seems to work in my mind or seem to fit is, individual work happens remotely, but the meetings, onboarding, celebrations, those types of things should happen in person if safe and at appropriate times, to cultivate that connection.

Ryan Jenkins (26:43):
There’s a really good example of this in the company called Automatic. They are behind the company WordPress, which I think maybe close to 50% if not more of the Internet’s websites are built on, and they’ve always been fully remote. They’ve had teams all around the world and they’ve got thousands of employees.

Ryan Jenkins (27:02):
But once a week every year without fail, they’ll get everyone together for a massive celebration in a way to just build camaraderie, cultivate connections, set the tone when it relates to their culture, and then work remotely the rest of the year. They have those connection points and they have a little bit more context on who people are. So it’s going to look different for every organization, but I think we need to be really intentional about it because we’re wildly underestimating how much we need human connection.

Ryan Jenkins (27:34):
Obviously we got a good glimpse during the pandemic, and now with work I think we’re going to hopefully start to wake up to it and start to figure out, “Where do I need to cultivate some more connection, and how do I position myself to make sure I’m getting that appropriate amount of nurturing those social connections appropriately?”

Ryan Jenkins (27:54):
So it’s going to be a balance, it’s going to look different for everybody, but I don’t think… Again, we’ve been having this conversation long enough for us to really get our hands around it. But I hope that we all will soon. And then you think about technology coming towards us and virtual reality and augmented reality and the metaverse and all these other technology. That poses a really big threat on how we establish connections and how we can consistently foster that sense of belonging.

Ryan Jenkins (28:23):
So I think we need to get a handle on it now so that we can create the appropriate barriers and guardrails when this new technology is going to inevitably continue to disrupt and infiltrate our lives.

Gillian French (28:37):
Well, I think with Workvivo, they have a platform and I love it because people put up personal things about themselves, and actually you can connect with people on that level. You learn where people got married, what they did, and they do different spotlights, and it’s great to then connect with people. And it’s amazing the tiny things that you connect on.

Gillian French (28:57):
If someone puts up a song they’re like, “Oh my God, that was my childhood song. I loved it.” And it gives you that gateway to… Connection can be tiny things, like I got in the same place as someone, or I love that country too and I holiday there. That’s all you need to open the doorway to say to someone, “Hey, I love that too. Did you go to this restaurant or did you have that? Or when did you get married?”

Gillian French (29:20):
And it does. It really then connects that relationship, and it’s just a small thing.

Ryan Jenkins (29:26):
So small. It doesn’t take much. It’s kind of like a digital water cooler. I love that. And you’re looking for those uncommon commonalities. That’s what draws people together. If we’re too focused and too busy on just the work, then we miss those opportunities to see the human behind the job.

Gillian French (29:46):
And tell me, out of your research that you did, what was the most shocking or the most interesting finding for you when you did your research?

Ryan Jenkins (29:55):
They say that authors write the books that they need to read themselves, and I that’s true for me. I’m an introvert, my co-author, Steven Van Cohen, and he’s an extrovert. So we had some good perspectives going into it. As an introvert writing a book about connection, it was an interesting ride. I think what I needed to hear the most and what stood out to me the most was that connections don’t have to be lasting to be meaningful.

Ryan Jenkins (30:27):
I was always falling victim to the trap that if I’m riding an elevator with somebody, “Well, I’m never going to see this person again.” So I can just keep to myself, listen to my podcast, look at my phone, whatever it might be. Research shows that should not be the case, because every human is a source of wellbeing for each other.

Ryan Jenkins (30:46):
And so all it takes is that 40 seconds. And so now, my go to wherever I am, if I’m getting coffee, talking to a barista, a waiter, waitress, or someone on the elevator, is just look him in the eye and saying, “How’s your day going?” That simple phrase, I don’t know what it is about it, I think it just grounds people into the present moment. It’s different enough that it’s not these how you doing or those random pleasant trees that we ping pong back and forth to each other.

Ryan Jenkins (31:16):
And that gets people to turn their shoulders and really engage in a moment. I’m not looking to continue this on or add this person to my network, it’s just we’re looking for a brief connection to fill each other up for just a second or two, and then we go about our lives. I had been missing that for as far back as I can remember. So that was the biggest takeaway for me in writing all this.

Gillian French (31:39):
Wow. And for our leaders and our HR professionals that are listening and they’re trying to create organizations where people can truly reach their potential and create an environment where people can flourish. Give me maybe one or two really practical, and they know you gave us one about listening or speaking last and listening to what everyone said. What practicals or tips could you share that our listeners could take away and apply in their organizations?

Ryan Jenkins (32:10):
I think there’s two that leaders could do, or individual contributors could consider as well. One of them is around clarity. How do we create clarity for individuals? How do you create it potentially for yourselves or for your team members? Because when things are unclear, our brain gets confused and we often then, if we don’t have a map of where we’re going, we might wander off and then we get lost.

Ryan Jenkins (32:36):
What happens when we’re lost? We’re lonesome, we feel isolated, off track. And we studied astronauts, which of course we had to study astronauts who spend years on end isolated from humanity. So how do they keep loneliness at bay in those environments of extreme isolation? One of their key strategies is clarity. Is they wake up every day and they know exactly what they do.

Ryan Jenkins (33:04):
Sometimes their days are regimented into five minute increments. So they know consistently what they’re doing and they know the big picture. So that’s really important. How do we connect ourselves to the purpose of our work, and how do we have clear direction in what we’re doing? So one of the leaders that we highlighted in the book, he does this with his team for not only creating a job description, but he creates a responsibility description, and it’s just one sentence.

Ryan Jenkins (33:33):
It’s like if all else fails, you break the glass and here’s the one sentence that you need to do to make the team better or to make this organization function. And so for example, any intern that comes on to the team, their one responsibility statement is do what is asked of you, and ask a lot of questions. So that’s it. At the end of the day, if an intern, if they’re confused of what they need to do, they just need to do what is asked of them, and ask more questions.

Ryan Jenkins (34:04):
And it’s so brilliant. I love it because it gives them directions. They just need to do what others are showing, but also the asking the questions is so empowering, and the organization and specifically this leader knows that these interns, they have fresh eyes and fresh perspectives. So we want them to ask questions to help improve our processes or procedures internally.

Ryan Jenkins (34:23):
So this idea around clarity is really important. And then the second one I’ll give you, it’s somewhat similar but it’s this idea of how do we strengthen the connection with our work using purpose? And so one way to do that is to identify the beneficiaries of your labor. So how do we draw a straight line that connects the work we do to the people benefiting from that work?

Ryan Jenkins (34:46):
Research shows that chefs cook better when they can see the people that are going to be eating their food.

Gillian French (34:55):
Oh, wow. Didn’t know that.

Ryan Jenkins (34:57):
Yeah. Radiologists are more accurate reading x-rays when they seen a picture of the patient. So time and time again, if people can have that connection with the people that are benefiting from their labor, it improves performance. You can do this for yourself. Ask why, and try to get down the line. Who is it that’s benefiting from your specific labor that you’re doing. It could be externally, it could also be someone internally.

Ryan Jenkins (35:22):
We always have to do those certain process or procedures where it benefits somebody down the line. So how do we strengthen those connections? And certainly, leaders can be doing this for their teams as well. But again, this isn’t about strengthening relationships necessarily. But remember, loneliness isn’t the absence of people, it’s the absence of connection.

Ryan Jenkins (35:42):
Too often, we’re missing that connection to the work we’re doing or the why behind our work. So it’s up to us as leaders to help strengthen that connection, and those are a couple ways to do so.

Gillian French (35:52):
Well. I was actually reading recently a definition of human wellbeing. I was reading lots, but my favorite was it’s varying the quality of your relationships in your life and your relationship with nature, which I thought was very interesting. But definitely I can understand the quality of relationships because you can have lots of people in your life, but the relationships where you don’t feel you’re accepted for or who you are or you don’t feel part of it.

Gillian French (36:20):
Certainly you told us it can cause us actual physical pain. So I generally ask all my guests, if they had a book, of course your book will be a recommendation, but is there any other book that you read that really resonated with you or that you would to recommend for our listeners?

Ryan Jenkins (36:42):
The book I’m reading right now, it’s called The Power of Strangers, and I forget the author’s name. [crosstalk 00:36:49] Oh, great. The Power of Strangers, and again, it’s very supplementary to the work that we’ve done with Connectable, but it’s really more focused on why don’t we spark up more conversations with strangers, and what is the benefit of doing so?

Ryan Jenkins (37:09):
He goes into the history of the human species and it’s really, really fascinating. So that’s very top of mind for me, and if folks find this conversation interesting, I think you’ll find that book interesting as well.

Gillian French (37:24):
And is Joe Keohane the writer of it?

Ryan Jenkins (37:25):
That sounds right.

Gillian French (37:27):
I’m probably pronouncing the second name wrong, but that’s great. And then if you had one piece of advice for global leaders, what do you think they’re missing in this context in the moment in time that we’re at now? What you think they’re missing or not seeing?

Ryan Jenkins (37:42):
What I’d like them to hear is that again, that loneliness isn’t shameful, it’s a signal. And it’s not a matter of if it’s impacting your team, but a matter of how many folks are impacted by your team. And then the last thing I would encourage folks or want them to know about is it doesn’t take much time and effort to do this, and it only takes you.

Ryan Jenkins (38:07):
You don’t have to revamp your entire company culture, you don’t have to convince executives, it just takes you. It takes some intentional pro-social behaviors, and we can start cultivating stronger teams, which will ultimately spill out and create stronger communities, and ultimately a healthier humanity.

Gillian French (38:25):
Thank you so much for being our guest today on The Employee Experience Podcast, and the book is called Connectable and I think it’s a really, really relevant topic. Well done on your success in highlighting it, and I wish you every success, so thank you.

Ryan Jenkins (38:40):
Thanks Gillian.

Gillian French (38:45):
Thank you so much for listening to The Employee Experience Podcast. Subscribe on Acast or wherever you get your podcasts, and check out workvivo.com to find out more.

The people behind the voices

Ryan Jenkins

Author, Keynote Speaker and Thought Leader

Ryan Jenkins, CSP® (Certified Speaking Professional)™ is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and a Wall Street Journal bestselling author on the topics of leadership, generational differences, workplace loneliness, and the future of work.

For a decade Ryan has inspired and equipped audiences with the necessary insights and tools to succeed in the new era of work.

Ryan has helped organizations lessen worker loneliness, optimize generational dynamics, and prepare for the future of work. Ryan’s top-ranked insights have been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and The Wall Street Journal.

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

Employee Experience Officer

Gillian French is a veteran people leader and organizational behaviorist with over 10 years of experience as Chief People Strategist.

She is passionate about coaching, strategy, building resilient and sustainable organisational culture, and improving global employee experience. She has also contributed to Forbes and is a regular panelist on the future of work.

Gillian is also the founder and CEO of SISU consulting, a business that specializes in organisation development and design.