All Together or All Alone? How Demographic and Digital Trends affect Socialisation and Isolation at Work

The softening and hardening of borders poses several fundamental challenges for the future of work and for individuals in organizations. Top amongst those is an increase in digitalization of the workplace. On the one hand, one might expect that these developments lead to more connectivity and more socialization amongst teams and organizational members. For example, people from different generations, cultures, or nationalities could share their experiences and thereby discover new common ground that increases group cohesion and identification. Moreover, new digital ways of communicating and working might further facilitate this, because they can increase the ease by which people interact. Yet, on the other hand, these current developments might lead to more disconnection, isolation and loneliness at work if individuals would retreat into their own demographic bubbles and thus ‘put up borders’ between them and their co-workers from different backgrounds. This might be even more so when digital tools lead to shallower, more depersonalized interactions, as this might hinder gaining a deeper understanding of others. Gaining more insight into when – and how – workers are successfully socialized at work is important as this increases individual and team performance, as well as individual well-being. Avoiding isolation and loneliness is important as it has been associated with lower health and well-being. 

Although there are various (anecdotal) reports that isolation and loneliness at work are on the rise in (parts of) society, there has only been limited research on this topic in workplace settings. This is surprising as many adults spend about a third of their time at work, making work potentially an important predictor of isolation and loneliness. However, there are currently only limited and one-dimensional measures to capture concepts such as loneliness at work.

The PhD project will research the above topic in-depth by drawing on the literatures on socialization isolation and loneliness and connecting that to research on the future of work. Data will be collected via a minimum of three quantitative studies, which will form the three core empirical chapters of the thesis. Together the three studies of the PhD project will shed more light onto the highly topical question if – and how – the softening of borders and the increase of digital technology will affect the future of work and lead to more, or less, loneliness amongst employees.

Researcher: Timo Walz (see profile)

Supervisors: Simon de Jong, Julia Kensbock, Florian Kunze (see profiles)