Remote Working, Wellbeing

Office-based or working from home, lonely employees need support

Lydia Watson

Loneliness. Everyone’s experienced it. Maybe you joined a new school once and had no-one to sit with at lunch. Or been sat at home on a Saturday night, with ‘social media envy’ overexciting plans that didn’t involve you.

 More recently, loneliness has taken on a new meaning. While remote working was a silver lining for some, others have spent the pandemic feeling isolated. But while employee loneliness is a big problem for your business, it isn’t a new one…

Work and the loneliness epidemic: the facts

Workplace loneliness isn’t a new problem. In 2019, 53.6% of British workers felt lonely at work – rising to 66.5% of 35-44-year olds, and 54.8% of people aged 18-24. Across the pond, the situation is similar – with 61% of American adults saying they feel lonely. 

There’s a lot of contributing factors to this concerning reality: not having work friends, or anything in common with their colleagues, eating lunch alone, working with different age groups… the list goes on. And while remote working is on that list, it’s not the primary culprit.

But has the pandemic made it worse?

In some groups, the answer is yes – and that comes down to your employees’ home situations. For people living alone or in unsociable flatshares, losing the social outlet of the office is bound to have been a considerable challenge. 

One study suggested 20% of remote workers will suffer from loneliness – which is worth bearing in mind if remote working is in your organisation’s future – but a hybrid approach also poses challenges. The same loneliness risk faced by shift workers may emerge if teams are on different in-and-out-of-office schedules. 

 

 

 

But with the knowledge that workplace loneliness was already a big problem, people leaders deciding the future of the workplace should treat this as an opportunity to reset, reconsider, and restart efforts to tackle loneliness – because it’s a threat to their business:

4 reasons why loneliness is a problem for your business

Isn’t loneliness a personal problem? Even if that’s your point of view, it’s a risky strategy when it comes to performance. Lonely workers:

  1. Think about quitting twice as much: there’s strong links with lower retention rates anyway, but lonely employees spend more time thinking about leaving
  2. Put in less effort in teamwork scenarios: a study saw that excluded team members put less effort into collaborative projects, damaging productivity all round
  3. Are 5x as likely to miss work for stress: not only do lonely workers take more time off for stress, they’re also twice as likely to need over sick leave too
  4. Say they’re less engaged with work: we all know engagement has significant links to business performance, so the fact that lonelier employees are disengaged is an issue

Research suggests that if you tackle loneliness and create a sense of belonging, you can see a financial boost of over $52 million. So it’s something worth taking seriously, by considering some of this advice:  

How to combat loneliness... when working from home

  • Line manager training to help them spot signs that their team members are struggling, so they can act proactively to prevent loneliness
  • Non-work video calls to encourage people from different teams get to know each other, bond, and catch up from afar
  • Buddy system pairing up employees, so they’ve always got a go-to if they need a chat – these could rotate once a quarter
  • Employee-run recognition programmes to encourage kindness between teams, and incentivise connection across the board

How to combat loneliness… at the office

  • Open-plan office to make catching up almost inevitable, and encouraging collaboration between different departments
  • Regular social events to create shared experiences on or off-the-clock, that give employees opportunities to make friends – 33% of UK workers want more of them!
  • Enhanced leave options so people can nurture their family ties and friendships outside of work, and be in a better mental space overall
  • Diverse hiring policies so employees don’t feel isolated by not seeing anything in common with their colleagues

How to combat loneliness... in a hybrid organisation

  • Book in-person meetings and keep working at home for focused time – make an effort to have team days, or walking one-to-ones
  • Connect employees by their interests to engineer connection. Ask everyone what they like to do, and match them with others with similar hobbies
  • Plan company lunches where everyone comes together, so you get a semi-regular chance to catch-up and collaborate on work
  • Improve your onboarding by making sure new hires meet everyone they can. It means they’re more likely to find a future friend in your organisation 

Want to know what initiatives will work? Listen to your team

Your mileage may vary, when it comes to these tips. But if you want a surefire way to prevent loneliness, create connection, and encourage friendships in your organisation, then there’s one thing you can do: listen. 

Employee surveys help you ask relevant questions, and get useful answers. And with our platform, you can clearly identify focus areas – and quickly decide new initiatives. Book a demo, and see how it can help you have the conversations you need to have: 

 

It’s time to start the conversation

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