Loneliness is an issue that needs addressing from all elements of society, including by employers. From November 2022 to February 2023 people between 16-29 and 30-49 were more likely to report feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’ than the oldest (70+). This was not the case in the previous quarter. With so much of our lives being spent at work, finding connections in the workplace is key to addressing feelings of loneliness.
Millions of people in the UK are affected by loneliness. To coincide with Loneliness Awareness Week (12th-16th June), management consultant and Founder of WorkingWell, Lesley Cooper shares some tips on how leaders can reduce loneliness in the workplace.
Lesley Cooper is a management consultant with a background in health and wellbeing consulting in the private healthcare sector. She has over 25 years’ experience in the design and delivery of all elements of employee wellbeing management programmes. She is founder and CEO of WorkingWell, an award-winning specialist consultancy that helps organisations to manage pressure and stress in a way that facilitates a culture of sustainable high performance.
‘’The modern world of work and the hybrid/remote nature of many people’s jobs has highlighted the importance of feeling connected to our colleagues. While managers often learn to recognise the signs of wellbeing issues such as depression and anxiety, loneliness can be really debilitating for those struggling with it. Managers must learn to spot the signs of loneliness and adopt a proactive approach to creating a safe and inclusive culture where everyone feels connected and cared for,” says Lesley.
Loneliness can result in increased risk of mental and physical ill-health, premature mortality, increased health care use and societal costs. Addressing loneliness is an important part of workplace wellbeing and has benefits for both employers and employees. The cost of loneliness to UK employers has been estimated to be £2.5 billion every year, so tackling loneliness should be a priority for employers.
Lesley has shared five ways to reduce loneliness in the workplace.
1. Build a culture of psychological safety
The first step is creating a space where people feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings. Leaders need to proactively cultivate a culture of psychological safety where employees feel able to share their concerns and ideas without the fear of negative consequences. Leaders can set the precedent for open communication through sharing their own vulnerabilities to demonstrate that the environment is an open space, and that there is no negativity associated with being honest.
2. No-agenda conversation
Having no-agenda conversations is a key way to build trust between leaders/managers and employees. This could take place before or in-between meetings to allow people to relax and forge strong bonds. When these conversations become embedded in company culture, people feel seen and heard. They recognise that they are cared for and valued. Not only will it become easier to spot if someone seems down, or isolated, but they are more likely to feel comfortable to share this.
3. Tailored support for remote workers
While some wellbeing strategies can be applied to both remote and in-office employees, leaders can’t take a one-size fits all approach. As one of the most likely groups to feel isolated, it is important to make a sincere effort to monitor remote employee wellbeing. On camera meetings are important to allow regular check-ins. Managers could schedule weekly ‘breakfast catch ups’ where you just chat about your week and how things are going in general, not just work related. This helps to forge strong relationships between managers and remote employees.
4. Provide access to support services & counselling
Often leaders feel under pressure to know all the answers, but it’s okay to be unsure what to say to someone. Leaders need to be there to listen and signpost accessible support. Providing a safe, non-judgemental place for employees to discuss any issues troubling them, better ways to manage negative feelings is crucial. This could be with a trusted line manager or colleague, but objective support from professional therapists and councillors should be accessible to prevent loneliness from manifesting into further issues.
Leaders that see an increase in uptake for support services should be proactive in assessing the root causes of these feelings to prevent future individuals from needing access to these services too.
5. Inclusive events and socials
Events and socials are an effective way to energise team members and can massively reduce any loneliness experienced, but inclusion should always be the priority. These events should boost wellbeing and encourage resilience. For some, large parties or trips to the pub may not do this, particularly when we take into account religious practices or lifestyle choices.
Events should have no pressure to attend and should be varied. In person, online, physical and creative, for example. Most importantly, they should not feel like an extension of work.
Building strong internal communities and a culture of psychological safety is crucial for maximising wellbeing and reducing loneliness in the workforce. Embedding these steps into organisational culture will help tackle various wellbeing issues and boost employee satisfaction.