Loneliness at work

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Written by Debbie Carter on 16 June 2022 in Features
Features

For Loneliness Awareness Week TJ interviews wellbeing experts on how loneliness affects our workforces 

Loneliness has a detrimental impact on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. This feeling is associated with various mental and physical health conditions. Research suggests that loneliness can contribute to depression, cognitive decline, and even heart disease. This can therefore cause issues in the workplace for an employee, such as reduced engagement, decline in productivity, low morale and burnout. 

The increase in hybrid and remote working for many across the UK that we have seen over the last few years has increased the risk of workplace loneliness for many. With the cost of workplace loneliness to employers being estimated at £2.5 billion every year, it is crucial for employers to prioritise their employee wellbeing to maximise engagement and productivity. This Loneliness Awareness Week, it is important to examine the causes of loneliness at work and learn how to prevent it in the workplace and tackle it when it arises. 

Building a community 

A foundational element of preventing loneliness is to create a community in the workplace which fosters a culture of kindness, care, and freedom to express yourself. This will give individuals a sense of belonging and a real connection to their workplace. This could be like a parent, looking out for and guiding each employee. 

The cost of workplace loneliness to employers being estimated at £2.5 billion every year

Penny Power OBE, co-founder of the BIP100 Club suggests the focus should be on building a community. This can be done virtual or face to face, but when it is based on a set of authentic and unifying values, its members also serve each other, reducing the risk of loneliness among workforces. 
“Imagine building a community that provides a sense of freedom and sharing, of love and caring. It is not hard to imagine the benefits for all when that culture is created. This is community-led business growth; this is not a network. When each person rises, the whole team rises. When we look after the wellbeing of each other, we all feel stronger,” says Penny. 

Monitor stress levels 

When people are feeling stressed and overwhelmed with work, they may isolate, feeling they need to solve their issues alone. Or may be anxious to admit they are struggling with their workload. This can become even worse if leaders are never present and miss their scheduled office hours. 

Carmel Moore, organisational development consultant and director of One Moment Company, believes that stress and loneliness are related. ‘‘Sustained stress over time can drive you deeper into your own private trench’’, she says.

“Do you find that when you are overwhelmed you consult less? In your own rushing and overcommitment, do you signal that stress is the price of success in your business and comes at a high personal cost?” asks Carmel.  She advises leaders to be very clear when setting deadlines and to explain why.  "When people are working independently, it is easy to assume that something is more urgent than it really is, and managers who are lax and loose with deadlines can be the cause of stress."

Offer a range of accessible support 

Support in the workplace needs to be both accessible and clearly signposted by employers so that employees know what is available and how to access this. Professional support services play a key role in preventing loneliness from escalating into more severe conditions. These professionals could include professional counsellors, psychotherapists and life coaches.’

In addition, Lesley Cooper, founder and CEO of employee wellbeing consultancy WorkingWell emphasises the importance of creating a psychologically safe space for employees to easily access support to help address issues early on. 

“By creating psychologically safe spaces to explore personal challenges with empathy and understanding, within teams, with line managers or with healthcare professionals, individuals will not feel alone. Alongside the empathy should be curiosity to understand individual differences, how people feel and identify organisational triggers,”’ says Lesley.

“Support shouldn’t just be available when [leaders] think someone might be unwell,” reminds Lesley. She says it should be offered to everyone, including those with neurodiverse considerations, before they reach a breaking point to provide a safe outlet for individuals. As such, support may need to be different for different people. 

Educating teams on signs of loneliness 

Spotting the signs of loneliness is a task that everyone in the business can be aware of, from leaders through to new recruits. Providing regular opportunities to inform and educate the workforce on the variety of issues that could impact a person’s wellbeing is helpful to not only alert them to early warning signs in others but actually help those experiencing challenges to recognise that they may need help or support.

Lesley Tait, a menopause and emotional wellbeing coach, found her personal and professional life was impacted significantly by the onset of menopause.

“I wasn’t sleeping well at all, so I was exhausted, and my mood swings were out of control. I couldn’t function at work, and I didn’t recognise this in myself because I’d always been so strong and capable, and because I was so worried about what people thought about me, I worked longer and harder than I’ve ever worked just so I could keep up with everyone else.” 

Lesley believes that she would have felt less isolated if there had been better education in her workplace about her condition and would have helped her co-workers understand. 

Find passions outside of work 

Work is central to our lives and existence, however when work begins to consume our whole life we can become overwhelmed. To be fulfilled in life it is important to have passions and interests to keep us busy and bring us joy, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Employers can facilitate an environment which encourages employees to discuss and bond over shared interests and be able to build a relationship that is not exclusive to business. 

Gillian McMichael, author and founder of Full Circle Global, discusses the importance of finding passions in the pursuit of personal happiness and wellbeing. 

‘’Passion can be anything: something you love doing, something that intrigues you, something motivating, a belief, anything that makes a difference to the world around you,’’ says Gillian. She continues, ‘‘joy is simple. It's living life connected to your passions and stems from making time for your own purpose and loves. It’s not something to strive for, it is a hidden reservoir ready to be awakened in every person.’’

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