9th – 15th May was mental health awareness week with the theme being how to tackle loneliness. Since the start of the pandemic people suffering from loneliness have seen a sharp increase. During the lockdowns, the Mental Health Foundation found that loneliness was almost 3 times that of pre-pandemic levels. With everyone’s lives thrown into turmoil and more people staying indoors, working from home, and socially distancing, many people struggled with their mental health, even those who hadn’t previously struggled. The UK at least seems to be returning to some sort of normality, however many workplaces still have some changes in place.
Why might you or a colleague feel lonely at work?
Isolation from colleagues
Even in the workplace employees can feel isolated and lonely. This can be because of spaces between desks, plastic barriers, and even limiting the number of staff in an office. A workplace can also include a car or van for employees such as engineers or delivery drivers as their vehicle is their place of work. Employees who work on the road could especially feel lonely due to the nature of their job.
Working from home
Although virtual meetings, direct messaging and emails have seen an explosion in use during the pandemic, some employees will crave the physical communication of a shared workplace.
Some employees won’t have face to face contact with anyone from the moment they get up to the moment they go to bed if they live on their own. Although these employees should be encouraged to meet up outside of work hours, many people who work from home tend to work longer hours as there isn’t anywhere they need to be. Over a long period of time, this can lead to loneliness and can start to affect their productivity and cognitive abilities.
Stress and long hours
Long hours can stop employees from spending time with friends and family, while too much stress can take up energy that may have been used for socialising. The charity Mind has stated that loneliness can have a negative impact on your mental health, which can increase stress, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and sleep problems.
Some employees may suffer from existing loneliness that is brought into the workplace or even exacerbated by work. Problems at home and people who live in certain circumstances may be more vulnerable to loneliness. Examples include:
- Single parents or carers who find it hard to maintain a social life
- Certain minority groups who live in areas without others from a similar background
- Employees with mobility or health issues
- Employees who experience discrimination outside of the workplace – or even within the workplace
- Abuse victims of any kind
Although these are examples of existing loneliness, and in many cases, external to the company, it’s still best to look after the well-being of your employees to the best of your ability.
What is the impact of loneliness in the workplace?
According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the cost of loneliness to UK employers has been estimated to be £2.5 billion every year. Staff turnover has the biggest impact at 64%, or £1.62 billion, as well as lower well-being and productivity at 26%, or £665 million. It is estimated that the impact of severe loneliness can cost £9,900 per person per year due to the impact on wellbeing, health and productivity.
Ways to combat workplace loneliness
As humans, we need interaction because it builds us and contributes to our growth. Companies can help by building an employee wellbeing programme, or expanding on one that is currently in place that incorporates loneliness.
- Encourage mental health or loneliness champions/mentors within the workplace
- Include a mental health and loneliness policy within your organisation
- Create small groups on social media where employees can go to encourage talking. To overcome any technology barriers for this, offer technology training days. This will also bring people together
- Read supporting blogs and articles online with tips on how to combat loneliness
- Train your workforce to recognise signs and symptoms of loneliness in themselves and colleagues
- Set up staff team building days where everyone can get together
- Encourage employees to listen to engaging podcasts on subjects they enjoy, or even ways they can overcome loneliness and mental health issues. Podcasts are available on major platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.
Watch our short video on loneliness
David Clifton, Health and Safety Senior Consultant and Principal Trainer at Agility Risk and Compliance, discusses the key points on loneliness in our short video below.