Is it possible to feel lonely, even when you’re interacting with dozens of colleagues every day? Absolutely it is – particularly since Covid and the move for more employees to work from home.
To mark Loneliness Awareness Week, we’ve been taking a look at what employers should and could do to support staff.
According to data from the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport (2021), the cost of loneliness to UK employers is an eye-watering £2.5 billion every year.
How can that be so?
Surely loneliness is a curse more of the retired, infirm and elderly – not those currently active in the world of functioning employment?
Therein lies the great myth about loneliness.
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Loneliness is experienced by people of all ages, in all sorts of social and economic settings, and for all sorts of reasons.
When it comes to employees experiencing loneliness, we know from the multitude of research undertaken in the last 18 months alone, that staff began to suffer unsettling feelings of isolation and of being ‘alone’ due to the lockdowns, and subsequently, a move toward more employers asking staff to work remotely.
On the one hand, some may have initially rejoiced at having not had to make that tortuous commute into work, or having to arrange childcare or even that they gained back productive working hours in front of their computer screen, without the distractions of the office.
Nevertheless, the downsides were clear to see too.
Removing people from such activities as the commuter train journey, the stop at the local coffee shop enroute to the office, the chat with colleagues at the water-cooler, or the friendly debate and banter in the corridor, collectively removed social connection to a significant degree.
This had less of a bearing on those who might have had family at home or close friends in their neighbourhoods, but for those who didn’t – that gap was felt deeply.
That DCMS reported ‘cost of loneliness’ is largely associated with such factors as increased staff turnover in the workplace, reduced wellbeing and productivity, and ill health and associated absence.
All of these are of course, consequences that no employer would want to have to carry.
To ensure that burden isn’t felt – by the business or staff member – there are, however, some necessary and relatively simple measures that leaders can consider to aid a better company-wide approach.
As with so many things we suggest here at MAD-HR, it starts with ‘culture’.
Whatever your scale of business, you can set the tone for how staff feel and experience their daily lives.
Emphasising connection, relationship-building, collaborative working and frequent team engagement, can all prove a dramatic benefit in limiting the way in which loneliness is felt (if at all).
There are key points in an employee’s work cycle, where one could easily expect there to be more vulnerability to loneliness. This might include at the point they join the firm, that they return from a period of sickness or maternity, or even that they move into a promotion or a different department.
Leaders should work hard to ensure that person is mentored, supported, and has the opportunity to relay how they are feeling at all times.
Some businesses also address loneliness issues with directly appointed ‘champions’ within the company. These champions might be trained mental health first aiders, and would be primed to support their peers with conversation wherever needed.
Other ways of reducing loneliness and consistently embracing the opportunity to develop more social connection, might include regularly changing which staff are ‘teamed’ together for particular initiatives, or even looking at where they sit in the office, or who takes lunchbreaks at particular times.
Remember that even where your staff are continuing to ‘work remotely’, there are many ways of using technology to ensure that person is frequently part of the daily workplace conversation, and that they can be involved in social activities.
Finally, always encourage your own staff to contribute on what they feel would aid the reduction of loneliness in your particular workplace.
They know its people, its culture and its routine. Their insight can help you develop a prevention policy which supports all your current and future employees, and aid you in providing a shining example to other business peers.
If you would like some help with tackling loneliness and its affects on your team, please feel free to contact a member of our MAD-HR team.