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3 minute read

Anna Eliatamby, Director of Healthy Leadership at CIC, and co-author of ‘Healing-Self Care for Leaders and their Teams’ examines why employers and their remote working employees need to consider the impact of loneliness on employee performance.

COVID-19 jumped us into remote work, as a necessity and not as a choice. The aftermath is still present, with remote and hybrid working being one of the current options offered by many organisations.

For some there were, and still are, clear advantages. Being able to work and manage home life, especially if you are a parent or have family responsibilities. It may be helpful to work from home because it decreases your interactions with those who are bullies. A colleague may have autistic qualities and prefer the known stimulation from working at home as opposed to the random noise of an office.

Remote working downsides

However, there are many downsides to remote working. The lack of social connection and isolation being major factors. We know it is only face-to-face interactions that trigger all the physiological responses and neural synchronisation needed for peak human communication and trust building. Using remote technology can lead to diminished communication and belonging.

This can make it easier for the remote worker to feel lonely, something that many report is a key issue they struggle with. Almost a quarter of workers agreed (in a survey) that feeling lonely at work had a negative impact on their mental health. Researchers estimate that loneliness has an overall impact on health equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

It can also increase the tendency to become depressed, anxious, and stressed. Sleep can be affected. At its worst, it is a contributory factor to suicidal intention. Loneliness contributes to absenteeism and sickness. All this can then become part of a negative cycle of loneliness, feeding mental health problems and vice versa.

There are moments in life when we all feel lonely, and that is part of our existence. But it is when it becomes a key negative part of our existence that it leads to the problems highlighted above. The reasons for loneliness can stem from work, e.g. increased isolation or personal life, e.g. divorce.

Improve social connections

If we are working remotely, we can think about whether the level of loneliness in our life is acceptable and if it affects our personal mental health too much or not. If it does, then we can look at how to improve social connections at work and at home, for example, arranging virtual coffee breaks or joining a group in your community. Make sure that you have and maintain a good balance between work and life. Ensure that, as far as possible, you are fulfilling your personal purpose and that of the company.

Strategies for employee engagement

Organisations should make sure that they have provided remote staff with all the technology that they need. Ensure that you maintain boundaries, for example, at what time you send emails. Managers should supervise remote staff so that they feel equipped to achieve their goals. They should create opportunities for increased social connection that are meaningful and include having fun. The culture should be one where it is OK to admit to being lonely without being stigmatised.

Loneliness can be frightening and scary. It is manageable if it does not overwhelm the person. As part of an overall strategic approach, it is important to factor in the psychological implications of loneliness when deciding on work modalities and work practices. Otherwise, we will be derelict in the honouring the psychology of employees.


By Anna Eliatamby is Director of Healthy Leadership, CIC and co-author with Grazia Lomonte of Healing-Self Care for Leaders and their Teams, out now and available on Amazon.

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