Loneliness Isn’t Gen Z’s Fault And Won’t Be Solved By Returning To The Office

It’s become quite the trend to talk about "loneliness," with even the US Surgeon General weighing in. There’s a real reason for that — it’s a real problem that has real effects on both individuals and the companies they work for.

But there are two troubling trends in the discussion about loneliness: blaming the victims and self-serving actions peddled as "solutions".

The first is blaming the victims with implications that younger workers are somehow "weak" and their discontent being something inherent to them. We’ve seen this particular trick before; late Gen X got blamed for the participation trophies our parents demanded we be awarded, then Millennials inherited that plus a whole new bunch of awful stereotypes, and it’s only gotten worse as we get to younger generations. As research shows how bad our collective mental health has become, Gen Z has been hit extremely hard.

And yet we act as if that isn’t a completely rational response.

The degree of disassociation needed to not acknowledge the rise of fascist ideologies, the ever-growing climate crisis, ideological fanaticism, water shortages, and horrorshow late-stage capitalism is simply impossible without getting the Mi-Go to put your brain in a jar.

So yeah, of course they’re depressed, feeling hopeless, alone, and disengaged. I barely cling to my existential absurdism by my fingernails, and I’m fairly likely to miss the worst of what’s ahead {1}. I can only imagine how that feels, and how much it obliterates your desire to … well, do anything, including making friends and being social.

It is not that Gen Z is weak, soft, or "less resilient". They are facing decent odds that apocalyptic predictions are already coming to pass due to the actions of wealthy and powerful people who will most likely face no real consequences for the harm they’ve caused. No amount of handwringing and mandatory fun "engagement" or "return to work" policy is going to change that.

Which brings me to the second disturbing trend. Too often, the idea that just simply shoving people into physical proximity is an answer to loneliness — and it is not. Aside from the inherent ableism in mandatory return-to-office policies, a Nov. 8 report from Perceptyx, an employee listening and manager effectiveness platform, found that "simply returning to the office and being around others won’t solve the loneliness issue" and that mandatory face-to-face time — like meetings — actually increase feelings of loneliness.

“It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s actually not surprising. Many organizations have replaced organic interactions with overscheduled time, particularly for remote and hybrid employees,” Emily Killham, senior director of people analytics, research and insights at Perceptyx, said in a statement.
“But employees tell us that it’s not having the desired effect. Simply being in a meeting with others doesn’t create connection or relationships,” she said. “In fact, spending most of the time in meetings is not good for the overall employee experience, which can bring out feelings of disconnection and loneliness.”
HR Dive

So why does return-to-office still get touted by business leaders whenever "loneliness" is mentioned? It’s not hard to imagine: return-to-office is easy, doesn’t require the company to spend extra money (and uses the buildings they’ve already paid for), and means they aren’t risking their investments in the looming corporate real estate bubble, as well as satisfying whatever control issues managers might have.

We all deserve better.

We deserve to have the mental toll of our societal greed acknowledged — and addressed. We deserve to have real solutions, instead of self-serving policies slathered in with buzzwords.

We deserve better.

{1} I turn 50 this year, am overweight, and smoked a lot of my life. I’d like to be wrong; maybe people die just ’cause everyone else is doing it.

Featured Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay