Loneliness at work: How it impacts staff’s mental health

The theme of mental health awareness week this year is loneliness, something that can have a hugely negative impact on our mental health, and even our performance at work.

While the world of business is changing all the time, the things we fundamentally need haven’t changed over thousands of years. Human interaction, understanding, and recognition, these are things that can make us happier, more fulfilled, more active, passionate, and invested in our lives and our work.

Despite technology giving us more ways to connect than ever before, loneliness is actually on the rise, as we saw during the pandemic lockdowns. It’s become such an important issue that in recent years the government has even appointed a minister of loneliness to tackle it.

Loneliness can harm our mental health.

Why social connection is important for mental health

Having meaningful connections is a vitally important for our mental health. Extended periods of isolation or exclusion can lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and can have long-term impacts on our confidence. These issues can have serious detrimental effects on our behaviour and performance at work.

How loneliness at work impacts employee performance

Loneliness lowers engagement and motivation

Part of why work is so often done in teams is because it builds a sense of camaraderie. Team members can offer support to one another, both in terms of the practicalities of getting work done, and the emotional side of dealing with deadlines or tough projects.

When working alone, there’s no one to speak about that work with, no one to cheer us up or cheer us on, no one to help us when we’re confused about what to do next.

There’s also no one to celebrate with when things go well, leading some to wonder why they should bother in the first place. Motivation is often the first casualty when it comes to loneliness at work, but it doesn’t just impact the staff that feel alone, it has a ripple effect.

Being isolated from our peers can cause social skills to deteriorate, making us even lonelier. Lonely staff members can seem less approachable than others, reinforcing the loneliness they feel when left out of brainstorms, new initiatives, and even social events outside of work.

Remote working has only made this more difficult to counteract. 1 in 5 workers during 2020 said that loneliness was their biggest struggle with working remotely.

Loneliness increases stress and sickness

Workers who are lonely take twice as many sick days due to work-related illnesses brought on by stress compared to non-lonely workers.

Poor mental health has a well-documented link with poor physical health. Our minds and our bodies are intrinsically connected, and when one is suffering, so will the other.

Businesses lose millions through workers taking sick leave for illnesses brought on by their jobs, from overworking to stress to loneliness.

Loneliness increases staff turnover

Lonely workers think about quitting twice as much as the average employee.

This isn’t surprising, as having a strong group of friends at work is one of the biggest positive factors in overall job satisfaction. They can propel us to greater achievements, and help us when things aren’t going well.

Without those connections tying us to work, we’re more likely to try and cut our losses and jump ship to a new job when things aren’t perfect.

When staff churn increases, the company culture suffers, which also increases turnover. It’s a cycle that can be hard to break out of, driving further isolation.

But there are ways we can all help their teams fight loneliness and make better connections at work.

How to fight loneliness at work

Help foster a community of support

Many businesses, especially those that revolve around sales, foster a sense of competition in order to drive up numbers. But this increases stress, and decreases co-operation, often leading to further isolation for already lonely staff.

A supportive culture focused around shared goals can be far greater in terms of overall team cohesion, not to mention healthier for your staff.

One of the best ways to help your staff deal with the demands of work is to enable them to create a strong support network.

Face to face meetings are one of the best ways to do this, getting people speaking to each other can immediately start to break down the barriers between colleagues. Collaborative team meetings are another way you can help people make connections at work, while also working towards objectives in such a way where everyone involved feels like they had an impact and contributed.

Technology should enable better interactions, not replace them entirely.

Encourage events outside of work

Social events with colleagues are vital in building a friendly culture.

They give staff a chance to learn more about each other, and speak about things outside of the usual context of work.

Book clubs, movie nights, quiz nights, team lunches, or just coffee breaks can help people get to know each other, reducing loneliness, and increasing productivity.

Studies have shown that, at least in terms of work, we don’t need dozens of close colleagues. Just a single close connection at work can drastically improve our mood, mental health, and overall performance.

Make casual check-ins part of the everyday routine

Starting internal meetings with check-ins on how people are doing, or what they’re doing at the weekend may seem like a small change, but it can have a big impact on how your team feels, and can make it easier for people to speak up if they’re struggling.

Loneliness is a real issue that millions of people are dealing with. If businesses can create friendlier, more inclusive and caring workplaces, it will not only improve their productivity, but the lives and wellbeing of their staff members as well.

Read more about how to help staff build relationships at work, or learn how to help your staff deal with business changes.

Contact our mental health trainers Hannah and Louise at [email protected] to find out more about how we can support you and your organisation.

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Posted on: 19th April 2022