Toolkit: Tackling loneliness at work

With more people working from home and in isolation than ever before, the issue of loneliness is a serious issue for employers. Levels of loneliness have increased by over 2% since 2020, with 7.2% of the adult population (about 3.7 million adults) saying they feel lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’.

And loneliness is not just something that affects the older generation – reports show that geographically, places with younger populations tended to have higher levels of loneliness. Plus,  higher rates of loneliness were felt by young people particularly associated with urban areas outside London.

So why are people feeling lonely?
Humans are social creatures and social interaction is vital to our wellbeing. Working alone and feeling excluded or disconnected has a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves, and how we perform.

Lonely employees become more withdrawn, less motivated and often have higher absenteeism. So, with more people out of the office with reduced social interaction, how can employers ensure that they tackle loneliness as part of their wellbeing strategy? How do we spot the signs and support our colleagues when we’re all being kept at a distance? 

It has been reported that one in four Brits blame not having good work friends as the main cause of their loneliness in the workplace. It’s especially hard to make friends when you’re on the end of a Teams video call and there aren’t the opportunities for office socialisation.

Here are some top tips to tackle loneliness in the workplace:

  • Accept that it exists.
    Loneliness Awareness Week (14-18 June) does just this, with their campaign encouraging people to see loneliness as an experience, not as a condition. By building a greater awareness and acceptance of loneliness, we can help ourselves and others to manage the feeling. 
  • Tell your story
    Everyone has felt lonely at some point in their life. Showing your vulnerability by sharing your experience with someone you trust at work, can be a great way of removing the stigma and shame that surrounds loneliness. Particularly if you’re in a position of leadership. Consider writing a blog or sharing an experience on social media, openly discussing the issue of loneliness as part of Loneliness awareness week. Get people talking. 
  • Reach out and check in
    Meet a colleague for a virtual coffee or lunch break, ring a colleague just for a chat to see how they’re doing – these are all important for our wellbeing, particularly when we’re working from home.  
  • Social interaction
    Whilst for most of us social distancing is still in place, starting a virtual after work book club/film club or interaction that isn’t just work can be a great way to bond with your colleagues. And when restrictions are lifted, make sure you have a good mix of inclusive ‘after work’ activities. Not everyone drinks and not everyone feels comfortable in a bar. 
  • Walk and talk
    Arranging to meet a colleague for a walk and talk in a park rather than a face to face meeting in an office can be a good way of allowing people to open up in a less pressured environment. Getting out into nature for 20 minutes can do wonders for stress levels too. So take your next meeting on the move, if restrictions allow. 
  • Encourage an open culture
    Feeling like you belong is vital for workplace happiness. By creating a safe space where people feel able to reach out or share their challenges, they will feel supported. 

The loneliness epidemic is a global issue and it has been reported that there is a link between an increase in death risk in people with heart conditions. As employers, we have a duty of care to look after our colleagues. Employees who feel disconnected or isolated aren’t going to perform at their best and they may even choose to leave your company altogether.

Removing the stigma of loneliness, sharing experiences and opening up the conversation is key to addressing the issue. Why not use Loneliness Awareness Week as an opportunity to start that conversation.

Wellbeing @ Work Hub

Global community helping individuals and organisations achieve excellence in workplace wellbeing & mental health

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