Isolation and loneliness have been growing issues for a long time now but were suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the world went into lockdown back in March 2020.
No longer could we speak to friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours without a glass window or electronic screen between us.
The need for social interaction is embedded deep within our DNA, and although for many of us electronic devices have offered some much-needed contact, it doesn’t in any way compare to face-to-face communication.
The true extent of being cut off from society in this way was bound to emerge sooner or later, and now it has.
The latest ONS figures suggest that one in four people were already experiencing loneliness at the start of November, but when the clocks went back there was an even greater spike.
It’s thought that a whopping 4.2 million people across the UK are now regularly feeling isolated and alone.
The thing is, loneliness doesn’t just affect those who are not surrounded by, or in contact with other people. It affects anyone whose situation makes them feel disconnected and unsupported by the people around them.
Here, I take a look at how certain circumstances are increasing loneliness amongst employees who are not technically alone.
Aside from the isolation and loneliness caused by stricter lockdown measures and the return to homeworking, parents are being faced with additional feelings of loneliness in relation to guilt.
Not only are they finding it difficult to be productive whilst caring for a child, but they are also feeling guilty for being productive and not being able to give children the level of attention they need or desire.
Those parents with younger children especially, find themselves having to break away from work quite regularly to attend to their children’s needs, meaning they are constantly breaking away from the work projects at hand. It’s a difficult balancing act to say the least.
What’s more, as we are now heading into the Winter months, there’s going to be limited opportunities for parents to enjoy outdoor time with their children outside of work, unlike in the summer months when trips to the park or woodland walks were more of a possibility. That will no doubt play on the parent’s mind if the weather unexpectedly brightens up on a workday and they want to grab the opportunity to take their child out for some much-needed outdoor playtime.
As a result, it’s become an internal battle for parents who on one hand want to continue to be as productive as possible, but on the other hand want to support their children as they learn to cope with a second restrictive lifestyle.
We all know that dealing with this level of guilt without speaking out can make us feel extremely lonely, and that’s something employers need to consider.
The majority of employees are still working from home as we continue to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, but this doesn’t mean workplace bullying doesn’t still occur.
Many expected that workplace bullying would disappear as the traditional working space dissolved, but it’s really not the case and it’s increasing the feeling of loneliness.
Workplace bullying takes many forms, from verbal abuse, offensive behaviours, and unjustified criticism to singling someone out for the wrong reasons. There are also more subtle ways which include micro-management, deliberately excluding certain employees and making them feel embarrassed or humiliated, all of which can still continue via remote communication methods.
And, with it becoming increasingly difficult to separate work and home, many employees can feel like there’s no escape. If they speak out, what will happen? Will they be believed? Is it too embarrassing to share what’s happening with family members?
It’s an incredibly lonely time for those feeling this way and that’s why there needs to be a greater effort from employers.
Whether it’s physical or emotional, any kind of abuse in a relationship can lead to loneliness and the understandable feeling of isolation.
The sad thing is many victims now don’t have the chance to escape the abuse even for a moment, causing them to feel more alone than ever before. They have to stay silent and suffer the agony of being locked in a house with the person they fear the most.
It is thought that global domestic abuse cases escalated by 20 per cent throughout the pandemic, a shocking and heart breaking revelation.
But how can they speak out when their partners have led them to believe that no one around them cares? How can they speak out when they are fearful of what will happen to them if they do?
Employers can help.
Five ways that employers can help tackle loneliness and isolation
- Give employees more autonomy over their roles by allowing them the flexibility to balance family commitments. This doesn’t mean throwing deadlines to the wind, it’s more about allowing people the flexibility to manage their work and home responsibilities in a way that works best for them.
- Create a culture of understanding and acceptance that we’re all experiencing current circumstances differently, and that we each need the time to process how we feel.
- Signpost employees to in-house and external support. As an employer, you may have a number of services available to employees to support them during difficult times. Make these services as easy to access as possible, and make sure that you’re communicating these services as much as possible. In areas where you do not offer in-house support, ensure you plug those gaps by providing details of any external support services such as the Samaritans or the NHS.
- Foster open communication. To enable people to feel connected to the workplace and those that they work with, ensure that all decisions and news bulletins are communicated across the organisation. In addition, encourage and enable employees to voice their own thoughts and reflections in both a direct and forum-based manner.
- Encourage colleagues to engage with one another. Utilise space and time to check in with each other to make sure everyone is ok, to share any lessons learnt, or to share hobbies, interests, or talents. Being part of, and by contributing to, our workplace community helps foster a greater sense of connection.
Co-founder and Executive Director at HR, health and wellbeing firm, Everyday Juice Ltd. Passionate about creating healthy, happy places for people to work, Gary works with businesses and organisations to ensure that wellbeing is part of the complete employee lifecycle, and through the Juice technology, enables them to bring each of their employees together through common interest.