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5 ways to reduce loneliness in the workplace

Written by Hannah Le Tissier, Mental Health Trainer

Loneliness is pervasive in modern society. People are living longer, but while the quantity of our years may be increasing, the quality may not. As technology continues to advance, our lives have become more digitally orientated and we are experiencing and interacting with the world in different ways. As a result, it is now possible to go about our daily lives without ever speaking to or otherwise connecting with another human being.

In England, 45% of people report feeling lonely occasionally, sometimes, or often. Research suggests that loneliness is as likely to result in premature death as smoking and obesity, and it’s harmful to both our physical and mental health. In fact, it is now viewed as one of the most important threats to public health, so much so that the government launched an ongoing strategy to tackle loneliness in 2018.  

Loneliness in the workplace

When talking about loneliness in the workplace, it’s important to understand the context of an increasingly lonely society. With the average person spending 80,000 hours at work across their lifetime, work is a key part of our lives. Work can be a place for many people to make friends, who go on to spend time with each other even when they no longer work together.

However, as remote working and digital communication increases, people are less and less likely to feel genuine connection through their work.

As a result, loneliness is estimated to cost UK employers  £2.5 billion every year. Poorer wellbeing and productivity, as well as increased turnover and absence, are all cited impacts of decreased connection at work.

Read more about the impacts of loneliness in the workplace.

5 ways to reduce loneliness in the workplace

Understand the problem

Since all workplaces are different, it’s important to get a good understanding of how your employees feel about loneliness in the workplace. We need to recognise that our experiences of loneliness will differ and so a one-size-fits-all policy may not be appropriate.

Some people may feel lonely when they are working remotely, while others may feel more isolated when in the office if the workspace feels too overwhelming for them.

Therefore, it’s best to ask your staff how they feel and gain crucial insight from them: is loneliness prevalent in particular teams? Is there an initiative that is already fostering connection? Are certain roles lacking team support? Ask your staff what matters most to them to give you a good understanding of how to address the problem.

Encourage good work-life balance

Leaveism’ is a concerning new trend emerging within workplaces. It describes the tendency of some people to work beyond their working hours, in the evening, at weekends, and even taking annual leave only to work on supposed time off.

With the increased blurring of boundaries due to remote working, there is an even greater risk of employees missing out on opportunities for connection within their personal lives.

That’s why it’s so important for employers and managers to encourage healthy routines and boundaries, empowering employees to reduce their feelings of isolation and make real connections with their colleagues.

Set up a volunteering scheme or charity partnership

Encouraging staff to integrate into their wider community can reduce loneliness. Not only will there be an effective shift in work-life balance, but acts of kindness are proven to reduce feelings of social isolation.

When we help someone in need, we form a connection with that person and, as a result, oxytocin (the “love hormone”), dopamine and serotonin are all released, which makes us feel better. This can then be positively reinforced over time, leading to a more connected and healthy workforce.

Create staff networks

Research has shown peer support to be an effective way to reduce loneliness. Therefore, you may like to empower your staff to create networks around shared interests to increase the opportunity for genuine connection at work.

Encouraging and enabling employees to create groups around their interests, life stages, and concerns increases the likelihood of staff forming quality relationships with colleagues. For example, some workplaces establish groups for new parents or retirees, others create LGBT+ groups or wellbeing champions.

These groups allow staff to get together and talk about things that are important to them, and also things that aren’t necessarily about work. This facilitates deeper understanding between them, which leads to deeper connections.

Empower your staff with training

While loneliness is not a mental health condition, it can cause poor mental health and, as always, early prevention is key in halting things getting more serious.

Therefore, equipping your employees with the tools to spot triggers and signs of poor wellbeing is crucial in tackling loneliness.

At Well at Work, we offer comprehensive Mental Health Awareness training that empowers your team to support themselves and their colleagues.

Posted on: 9th May 2022