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How can you support employees with loneliness?

As businesses settle into new work routines after the various Covid lockdowns, a large number of firms have adopted a hybrid approach to working, or have allowed employees to work from home permanently.  While there are many benefits to this change, there are also some areas which may present a challenge for employees and businesses.  One of those potential challenges is employee loneliness. 

For some, being in an office and seeing colleagues is their only social interaction and working from home can remove that much-needed human contact.  Employee loneliness isn’t just a potential challenge for those who work from home – some employees may struggle to fit in with the office culture and may feel excluded by their colleagues.

It’s important to recognise that loneliness can have long-lasting and serious effects on us and on the businesses we work for.  Loneliness is often categorised as a social problem but it can also be classed as a health problem that is “associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” As many of us spend a large proportion of our week working, the workplace is an obvious area that can make a vast difference to how lonely we feel. 

There are clear benefits for employers who strive to reduce loneliness in the workplace.  According to a 2017 Co-op and New Economic Foundations report, the cost of loneliness to UK employers was estimated to be £2.5bn each year as it can have such an impact on productivity, staff turnover and employee commitment. 

To make a difference in loneliness in the workplace, there are steps that individuals and employers can take.

What can individuals do?

Try to be yourself.  We may feel like we need to conform to a corporate ideal when we enter the workplace but being ourselves allows others to get to know us.  If you spot areas where you feel you need to understand yourself more, take the time to think about your strengths and weaknesses and how you may want to develop your interpersonal skills.

If you are in an office environment, take the time to talk to others.  Think about whether you’ve had any social interactions that day – it may be that you’ve had your head down and you’ve been getting on with work but it’s important to take time out every so often to speak to others.

Look after others.  If you put in the effort to look out for colleagues and try to do something nice for others, you’re likely to foster good feelings and build stronger relationships.

There’s more about these tips in this People Management article:

How can employers help?

An article in People Management identified five themes that businesses can use to address loneliness.  They were:

  1. Culture and infrastructure: Identifying what really matters to employees and aligning it with corporate values and embedding loneliness into other wellbeing and welfare activities.
  2. Management: The different kinds of support, training, and guidance that can aid managers in identifying and helping those employees who are experiencing loneliness.
  3. People and networks: How people have used networks to address loneliness, including while working remotely.
  4. Work and workplace design: How employers have tackled a dispersed workforce and the tools and systems that can promote visibility and connections.  Even when employees are working remotely, video conferencing facilities, instant messaging services, and other team-based working platforms can help in alleviating loneliness.
  5. Wider role in the community: How some employers have sought to tackle loneliness beyond our immediate workforce.  This could include involving the business in helping in local community projects or supporting local charities or schools.

If this is something you feel would benefit your company, speak to your HR Team or your line manager about how the business could make needed changes.  View HR would be happy to discuss how we could support your business in achieving this aim.