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Loneliness: A professional hazard?

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines loneliness as; “The feeling of being alone; the sense of solitude; dejection arising from want of companionship or society”. On a psychological level, we as humans have a fundamental need to feel like we belong and build lasting and meaningful relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) and this extends into our place of work. One of the key antecedents for being a great EA is the ability to build trusted and impactful relationships with your peers and key stakeholders and you’ll often see this highlighted in person specifications for new roles.

Loneliness, at least for me is multi-faceted. I often turn to the academic literature on CEO loneliness which has been well documented over the past 30 years. Loneliness can arise from.

Of course, there are many more reasons for feeling professionally lonely, and my point here, is that this will also extend to the leaders EA. One of my leaders posted about the CEO role being lonely, and I jokingly reminded them that we were both lonely and miserable! Although this was said in jest as we genuinely love what we do, it was a gentle reminder that our roles come with loneliness as a professional hazard.

As an EA, you are in an incredibly privileged position. You’re both the eyes and ears on the ground but also have exposure to the strategic initiatives of the Organisation and this comes with certain responsibilities. It can be incredibly tough sometimes when you have no one to confide in, or persistently saying “I can’t discuss this with you right now”. This is part and parcel of the role, and my somewhat toughened, elder millennial view is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

And whilst I accept this is the nature of the role, I do still get a little heart pang when you’re the only person not invited to e.g. a team meal as you don’t sit within any specific team. I often joke I am a team of one (and everyone knows one is the loneliest number), however I was just as lonely when I had a team of 6 EAs around me, who even then, I had to keep at arm’s length. As an EA, it’s imperative to find a way to reduce the feelings of loneliness that will work for you, and this will be different for everyone. The netball court is my solace where I can run around and sometimes push my opponents (just a little bit) to get my frustrations out. For others it may be finding a trusted confidant, professional mentoring or joining a networking group. If you can take one thing away from this, its perhaps to find some solace in the fact you are not alone, feeling alone.



Avolio B. J., Gardner W. L. (2005). Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 16, 315-338.

Baumeister R. F., Leary M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

Collinson D. (2005). Questions of distance. Leadership, 1, 235-250.

Kasper H., Meyer M., Schmidt A. (2005). Managers dealing with work-family-conflict: An explorative analysis. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 20, 440-461.