Is The Most Well-Connected Workforce Lonelier Than Ever?
Past research has revealed that unemployment increases the chances of loneliness by 40%, but equally, loneliness also raises the likelihood of unemployment. Today, many are asking if working from home is having an exponential effect on loneliness, with reports of 70% of employees who transitioned into exclusively remote working suffering from increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. But can we take this at face value and what can we do to tackle loneliness?
Working alone does not always correlate with the experience of feeling lonely. Many workers are thriving working at home and appreciating not having to commute, over and above in-person social interactions with colleagues. It is also possible to be with people and still be lonely. The plight of the chronically lonely means isolation can lead to feelings of low self-worth and can be a major risk factor in exacerbating and accelerating both physical and mental health conditions, such as coronary heart disease and dementia.
Addressing loneliness and supporting social connections at work benefits employers and employees. According to the government, the cost of loneliness to UK employers is thought to be £2.5 billion annually because of its effect on staff turnover, productivity, well-being or health and associated sickness absence. At an individual level, the financial impact of severe loneliness is estimated to be as much as £9,900 per person annually by impacting their well-being, health, career and productivity. So, what can be done to address and overcome the issues of loneliness and isolation? It starts and ends with increasing our all-important sense of belonging.
ACTIVELY ENCOURAGE A HEALTHY WORK/LIFE BALANCE
Employees who are stressed and overworked often end up isolating themselves from family, partners and friends, abstaining from social events and hobbies in order to have enough hours in the day to meet the demands being put on them at work. Maintaining relationships, companionship and enjoying life outside of work and keeping our minds and bodies active have a direct effect on what happens back at the desk or on the shop floor.
CONNECT WITH YOUR TEAM
Take the time to get to know and understand who your employees are beyond the workspace. Buddy systems, mentoring programmes, interest groups, committees, sports activities, lunchtime chats, networking opportunities, introductions to fellow like-minded colleagues, employee assistance officers, and of course, the unprecedented rise in business virtual interconnectedness can all help tackle loneliness. Space, resources, and time need to be given to prioritising connectivity. Building authentic relationships reduces stress and improves well-being, creativity, and productivity.
IDENTIFY WHAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Some employees may need extra support at particularly challenging times including returning to work after a long-term absence, such as following a bereavement or because of caring responsibilities or post-maternity or paternity leave. Each individual experiences life in a different way and in order for a business to meet their needs, managers must understand how they can help without making assumptions. Managers need to work on improved culture and shared values to reduce the stigma around loneliness.
The loss of extended family and community over the last few decades is responsible for a number of societal issues around the world. Hosting regular social events, workshops, team-required projects, catch-ups, shared activities, and team-building days bring a team of individuals together and helps to overcome disconnect and build a workplace community. The true success of hybrid working may not be known for a while yet but at face value, it seems to offer flexibility and independence whilst also maintaining social connections when back in the workplace.
RESOURCES AND TRAINING
Ensure employees have clearly signposted resources available to them and have champions at work whose role it is to identify loneliness, a lack of inclusion or poor mental health and provide inspiration, tools, and opportunities. Having experience and knowledge about how to identify lonely employees is key to doing something about it. Whilst this is a skill we should all possess, having nominated team members who check in with those at risk is both practical and useful. Respecting the importance of confidentiality, empathy, and privacy, and giving someone your full attention will probably call for extra training.
IDENTIFY AT-RISK GROUPS
Marginalised and minority groups within a workforce are more likely to encounter loneliness as a result of discrimination and cultural isolation. Approaching the end of working life with up-and-coming retirement can sometimes act as a trigger for anxiety, disconnect and doubt, so this may be a particularly important group to focus on. Equally, young Generation Z and Millennials reportedly feel the most isolated in remote working.
By Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership