What We Are Reading
May 2021

The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That's Pulling Apart by Noreena Hertz

The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz book cover

With so many of us stuck working from home, it is inevitable that feelings of isolation and loneliness have soared. But even before COVID triggered the current “social recession”, 60% of U.S. nursing home residents say they never have visitors, one in five millennials say they have no friends and 85% of employees say they are disconnected from their company and their work. UK Economist Hertz surveys the causes of all this loneliness, which includes smartphones, social media, modern architecture, increased urbanization, and our whole neoliberal capitalist system. While the causes are wide-ranging, so is the damage: loneliness contributes to the deaths of millions of people annually, costs the economy billions, and even threatens our democracy. At work, lonely workers are less motivated, make more mistakes and are more likely to quit. While full of dire warnings, Hertz’s book also offers a compelling plan for bridging our divides during this time of mass disconnection. It is true that our sense of togetherness has taken a major beating during COVID, but our primordial need for physical proximity and togetherness is likely to prevail.

HIGHLIGHT(S): Hertz celebrates the workplace as a unique place for building community. She recommends companies reconsider open-plan offices, “hot desking”, remote work and other aspects of modern-day work intended to make us more efficient, which are instead increasing isolation and lowering productivity. She also implores leaders to more explicitly value qualities such as kindness, cooperation, and collaboration, and to find ways to reward and incentivize such behavior.

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