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Managing the Effects of Loneliness in the Workplace

According to Public Health England, relationships and health are the two most important determinates of wellbeing in the workplace.

It therefore follows that by supporting colleagues to build relationships and connections at work, businesses can cultivate productive and resilient workforces.

This year, for Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme is ‘loneliness’. Whilst loneliness can feel limited to personal experience, it can easily translate into the workplace.

Chronic loneliness increases the risk of mental and physical ill-health and there are huge costs for employers to bear as a result of this. A recent study found that the cost of loneliness to UK employers is estimated to be £2.5 billion each year. These costs are attributable to increased staff turnover, as well as lower wellbeing and productivity, the impact of caring responsibilities and ill-health associated with sickness absence. As such, tackling the effects of loneliness has been noted as a key priority for employers and the Government to drive social change.

A lack of social connection can lead to less commitment, productivity and greater levels of absenteeism or staff turnover. Whereas, having meaningful connections is associated with higher wellbeing and greater engagement at work.

The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy has commenced a campaign to end loneliness by establishing the “Loneliness Employers Leaders Group”. The Group was set up to deepen the employers’ understanding of workplace loneliness and identify steps that they can take to support employees who are dealing with isolation and feelings of loneliness.

The Government’s latest report highlights various measures that employers can take to recognise loneliness in the workplace and to support their employees’ social wellbeing. A link to the report can be found here.

Here are five ways in which you can reduce loneliness at work:

  1. Create a safe place of work
    Employers have a common law duty to create a safe place of work and that includes supporting both physical and mental wellbeing. It is therefore important to create a culture where working relationships and connections are well thought of and embedded into your business. Employees should feel able to express themselves without fear that others will think less of them. When this is the case, employees are comfortable sharing ideas, asking questions, expressing concerns and admitting vulnerability.
  2. Encouraging the use of one-to-one meetings
    One-to -one meetings, return to work interviews and general catch-ups provide time to consistently check in with your employees. They encourage staff to discuss struggles that they are experiencing and give employers a platform to put in place support mechanisms that may help them.
    Whilst some managers can feel that they are crossing personal boundaries when discussing someone’s wellbeing, employees often want their leaders to take an active interest in their personal lives, especially if it is affecting their performance at work. Note that such conversations will only be possible where employers create a culture of openness.
  3. Remembering the remote workforce
    Recent studies have shown that remote workers are more susceptible to workplace loneliness due to the fact that they are working in isolation. The use of Teams and Zoom (and similar platforms) have enabled us to have much more personal and effective communications, over and above sending emails. It will be important for employers to engage with and continue to integrate their remote work force.
  4. Finding ways to collaborate
    Creating opportunities for collaboration and introducing shared activities and workshops are great ways of improving the social atmosphere in the workplace, whilst providing the opportunity for employees to build upon their professional and social networks.
  5. Signposting
    Loneliness has the potential to become a serious health issue and sometimes it is beyond the scope of what a manager can provide by way of support. As such, ensure managers/employees know how to access and signpost to further support, e.g. through HR, Occupational Health or Mental Health First Aiders.

For more information on how to support employees or colleagues struggling with loneliness, please get in touch with Bath Mind

A huge thank you to Pip Galland, Employment Law Solicitor and our Chair of Trustees, for taking the time to write this insightful and helpful piece for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.

Posted on: 11th May 2022

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