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How to stop loneliness at work in its tracks

Feeling lonely at work is a common issue, with 1 in 5 employees experiencing loneliness and 23% reporting mental health impacts.

Having friendships and being included means we are more engaged, productive and creative, have better job satisfaction and employee turnover is often lower. If that is such a given then why do one in five of us feel lonely at work according to mentalhealth-uk.org and 23% say loneliness has affected their mental health.  As Loneliness Awareness Week (12th – 18th of June) approaches, organisations must look at who is ostracised, lonely and excluded, why, and what we can do about it.

Who is being affected?

Loneliness is often misunderstood as being alone, but it’s not that simple. Some people feel content in solitude, whilst others, even amongst other people, feel isolated.

Loneliness in the workplace poses a real threat and can affect anyone from entry-level positions to CEOs, but it can get lonelier as you become more senior. According to a Deloitte study, 30% of senior executives report feelings of isolation due to a perception of needing to project strength and certainty at all times, a lack of people to turn to, or the pressures of decision-making. This loneliness amongst leaders can have significant implications, not only on their well-being but also on their ability to connect with the team effectively. Whilst working from home may be more convenient for many, a survey from Kadence found that 67% of workers aged 18 – 34 said working from home has meant they have found it harder to make friends and maintain relationships with colleagues.  Younger employees (18-24 years old) are twice as likely to feel lonely at work according to mentalhealth-uk.org.

Why does loneliness matter?

There is a clear link between loneliness and poor mental and physical health. Feelings of isolation can exacerbate stress levels, which can contribute to being inactive, poor sleep quality, higher rates of burnout and feelings of depression and anxiety among employees. Loneliness can lead to decreased productivity, creativity, and performance as lonely individuals may feel less motivated and engaged in their work tasks, affecting both themselves and the organisation. Employees who feel disconnected from their colleagues are likely to feel job dissatisfaction, miss days of work and are more likely to leave.

How can organisations combat loneliness?

Look out for vulnerability and loneliness

Remote workers, single parents juggling work and family responsibilities, and employees from minority backgrounds may be more susceptible to feelings of isolation due to factors such as physical distance, lack of support systems, or cultural differences and ostracism. Take a look at the people in the company and reflect and analyse who may be lonely and seek solutions after checking in on them.

Cultivate solidarity through purpose

A positive work culture that values inclusion and collaboration, recognises talent and appreciates its staff reinforces a sense of belonging and purpose, reducing the likelihood of loneliness. Valuing the efforts of your employees is just as important as celebrating results.

Allow voices to be heard to show care

We can all benefit from a work environment that shows every voice matters and that others care. People want to feel seen, celebrated and cared for. Create a supportive atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable expressing their emotions and sharing their experiences to foster connections and build trust among team members. Start one-to-one meetings with check-ins and keep your door open for employees to reach out. If you say: “My door is always open…” please mean it and the consequences that derive from it!

Maintain zero tolerance of toxicity

Being vigilant for negative behaviours such as rudeness, bullying, microaggressions or harassment is essential to prevent the development of a toxic work environment and avoid conflict and exclusion. Addressing these issues promptly optimises team spirit and ensures all employees feel respected, included, and engaged.

Space to socialise and collaborate

Create an interactive atmosphere and physical space to facilitate the formation of friendships amongst colleagues. Does your company offer employees time and opportunities to form connections such as on-site social events, lunches, or fun sporting fixtures? Be cognisant that some activities won’t be inclusive for all. Some people won’t want to drink alcohol after work. Some can’t stay late as they need to get home to their children. Others aren’t able to play competitive sports.  Good intentions can sometimes still inadvertently mean exclusion and a real community caters for all.

Buddy up 

Implementing a buddy system or a peer support programme promotes employee connections. Encouraging employees to form professional friendships also opens the door to collaboration, exchanging skills and expertise, and better understanding. Mentoring and reverse mentoring enable people to develop new skills and to learn from someone different to them.

Beware of the ‘we’re a family here’ culture.

For years leaders have tried to sell employees on the idea that we are ‘one big family’ but this means they are often likely to be asking too much of their employees. At the same time, you also don’t want to feel like you’re just a cog in the office machine. Aim for a middle ground where you have meaningful connections with colleagues but maintain your personal boundaries.

www.serenityinleadership.com

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