The past fifteen months have made perhaps more people than usual reflect on the feeling, “I like to be alone, but I don’t like to be alone”.
We may have found that we can have too much loneliness or, conversely, that we feel lonely even with a house full of people and online communication. Not to mention those of us who have lost someone and have experienced the loneliness of grief or the feelings of loneliness that a change in our work or personal circumstances can bring.
For many, the feelings and effects of loneliness can be temporary. But in 2017 the New Economics Foundation found that “extreme” loneliness, the feeling of loneliness, mostly or all of the time, not only has personal costs, but also significant costs to the company. Contrary to the assumption that loneliness is a problem that affects the elderly, their summary of the studies found it was present in all age groups and provided a conservative estimate that it was experienced by over a million workers in the UK . The estimated cost to UK employers was £ 2.5 billion.
Figures from the New Economics Foundation suggest that, for both financial and worker well-being reasons, it is in the best interests of employers to take steps to minimize worker loneliness.
What measures can an organization take to reduce loneliness?
Loneliness was, until recently, one of the subjects that carried a stigma and was found uncomfortable to talk about. Perhaps our shared experience of lockdown broke that stigma a bit and made it an ever easier topic to discuss. Here are some suggestions to start the conversation and take action in a work environment.
communication – Humans are social animals and connections are vital to our emotional wellbeing. For some, their connections at work are the only interactions they have every day. Employers can raise awareness and highlight the role anyone can play in an organization, not just interactions between departmental colleagues.
Research by Epley and Schroeder in 2014 found that talking to strangers in a pendulum context was as positive an experience for those who were spoken to as it was for those who were asked to speak.
Continued communication – Good ideas for social interactions in the workplace usually start off well, but even with the best of intentions they tend to wear off over time due to the pressures of work. Ask for opinions and ideas on how best to keep in touch, especially while you are working from home. Keep in mind that individualism will play a role and a solution may not work for every team member.
Admission of new starters – In our day and age there may be people who joined over a year ago and have not yet physically met anyone in their new organization. Discuss how newbies can best feel welcome and get to know their new colleagues as well as the wider workforce community. Perhaps arranging a fresh start to meet his colleagues in person, have a mentor to reach out, and the opportunity to take a social virtual tea break with fellow newcomers from time to time.
Social interaction – always a difficult balance that will never please everyone, but which takes into account the relationship between digital messaging and personal conversations and meetings. When at work, take advantage of the summer weather and encourage socially distant outdoor breaks rather than a lonely sandwich at your desk. Once this is easier, or online if possible, encourage those within an organization who share similar interests to join a group or social activity.
We recently spent some time on the discussion of workplace loneliness and have compiled a collection of resources on the subject that you can find below. We have added this section to our Workplace Mental Health Resources page and added a link to it on both our Workplace Wellbeing Resources pages and the Coronavirus Support and Resources pages.
Employer and loneliness counseling
The government released this paper in May 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic. Produced by the Loneliness Ending Campaign, it highlights the projected cost of loneliness in the workplace and its impact on personal wellbeing and productivity. Through consultations with companies and employers who recognize both workplace loneliness and support the social well-being of workers, five issues have been identified to address workplace loneliness. Its aim is to provide a starting point for organizations to start a conversation about what can be done to address the loneliness of their workforce and the wider community, and includes case studies of good practice.
A page on the NHS website has suggested recommendations and prohibitions to help with feelings of loneliness, which includes links to relevant resources and further reading.
Feeling lonely? Get support
The British Red Cross has many resources on its website including this page which has some resources on how to build trust and connection, details of a podcast series with people talking about how loneliness affects them, a downloadable resource pack on wellbeing, along with many other links and tips.
Guide to loneliness
The Marmalade Trust, which hosts the Loneliness Week campaign, has a loneliness guide on their website that provides tips to help you feel more connected at home, in the community, at school, and at work.
#Let’s talk about loneliness
Launched in 2019 by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the campaign aims to help end the stigma associated with loneliness and encourage people to talk about it. The website provides advice and resources for individuals and offers a toolkit for employers.
The Jo Cox Foundation website has a directory of organizations that offer advice and support. The directory is divided into support for the elderly, support for specific groups, volunteering, contact with new people, and emotional support.
Loneliness in young people
The Mental Health Foundation participates in two collaborative campaigns to combat loneliness. Details of each can be found on this page of their website.
Unlock loneliness aims to raise awareness of loneliness among young people and provides tips and policy recommendations.
What’s wrong with everyone? This campaign features an animated story about loneliness and isolation called “What is wrong with Merve ?: Loneliness” and the campaign website provides additional advice and resources.
Tips on how to deal with loneliness
In her Daily Life Tips section, Mind has 3 pages that deal with loneliness. This includes investigating the causes, tips on how to deal with feelings of loneliness, and suggestions of where else you can find support.
Wellbeing training and loneliness
Many of our trainings include a discussion that social connections are one of the most important protective factors for our wellbeing:
Manage our mental health while working from home
Mental health awareness training for managers, supervisors and team leaders
Mental health awareness training for all employees
Resilience training in the workplace for managers and employees
The science of wellbeing
If you’d like a conversation about training needs or would like more details about any of these courses, please complete our Contact form, or call the number on it. We are happy to hear from them.