Talk about a paradox: Many busy managers and professionals are around people all day, yet they’re also plagued by loneliness.
Michael Lee Stallard is co-author of Connection Culture, and he says this very malaise afflicted him. Stallard was a high-ranking executive on Wall Street but a stranger to his own children.
He hopes others can learn from his mistakes.
getAbstract: How did you come to study the importance of connection?
Stallard: I spent most of my career on Wall Street, and I got involved in some really challenging mergers. I was working long hours, and I had long commutes. It squeezed out time for family and friends. I just wasn’t feeling well. I got through the day on caffeine and exercise. Then I used wine to slow down at night. I didn’t realize I was lonely. I didn’t realize I was hard-wired to connect. I think that happens with a lot of people today. They’re lonely, even though they’re working hard. The average American spends 10 hours a day in front of a screen. You add up commutes and screen time, and it really squeezes out time for face-to-face interaction. But we need that. It calms our nervous system. It releases an enzyme called telomerase. Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes, and they’re the part of the body that’s damaged by stress. Telomerase repairs that damage. There’s science behind this. The lack of connection affects the national health. When people are lonely, they are prone to self-defeating behaviors, including violence.
getAbstract: Even though you’re no longer on Wall Street, you’re still a hard-working, ambitious guy. How do you balance your time?
Stallard: I no longer have my commute into Manhattan, so that helps a lot. I’m really good about taking one day off a week. I really do take at least a 24-hour period on the weekend where I just spend time with family and friends. I have a group of guys I’m really close friends with, and we do things together on Saturday mornings. And my wife and I spend a lot of time together. I’m an empty nester now, and back when I was on Wall Street, I really didn’t spend enough time with my kids. My daughter told me I hardly knew her, and that was a slap in the face. I’m intentional because now I know I need my connection. Before, I didn’t really realize I needed that. Now I know it’s a need and not a want.
getAbstract: What about workers who remain in demanding jobs? How do they balance work with this need to connect that you describe?
Stallard: Have boundaries. Some companies have hard-driving cultures, where they don’t want you to ever turn off your smartphone. A lot of associates on Wall Street just work insane hours. After a few years, their bodies start to break down. It’s also going to make you very vulnerable to addiction. The stress response overallocates blood, glucose and oxygen to the fire-fighting systems. If you’re being mugged, the stress response is good. It helps you survive.
But if you’re in a stress response all day long, that’s not good. People don’t feel well, and they start to ingest things to make them feel better.
getAbstract: As you and I are talking, we’re working, but we’re doing it in a low-stress way, and we’re also connecting. What about jobs that give you a chance to connect?
Stallard: The professions that are the most vulnerable to loneliness are high-task professions: engineers, physicians, lawyers. Historically, a physician’s job hasn’t been as task-oriented. But now, the health care system doesn’t really give physicians time to connect with their patients. If your position is just task, task, task and no connection, or if you’re on a laptop all day, maybe you need more connection outside of work.
getAbstract: There’s a lot of new thinking about extroversion and introversion, and how different people need different levels of interaction. How does your natural tendency toward extroversion or introversion affect your need for connectoin?
Stallard: I would call it a set point. People’s set point for connection is going to be different. There’s a whole field called epigenetics that looks at gene expression. If you have more introverted parents, chances are they’re going to pass that on to you. So you may not need as much connection as the person next to you, who may need more connection.
About Michael Lee Stallard
Michael Lee Stallard (www.MichaelLeeStallard.com) is a thought-leader, author, speaker and leading expert on how human connection in cultures affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. He is the primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out and Connection Culture.