Business

Feeling the pain of workplace loneliness

Being part of a company, with tens, hundreds or thousands of employees, also does not prevent loneliness. You can be surrounded by people all day every day and still feel isolated
Being part of a company, with tens, hundreds or thousands of employees, also does not prevent loneliness. You can be surrounded by people all day every day and still feel isolated Being part of a company, with tens, hundreds or thousands of employees, also does not prevent loneliness. You can be surrounded by people all day every day and still feel isolated

LONELINESS has been defined as “the pain we feel when our social connections do not meet our needs”.

A few weeks ago, I read that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified loneliness as a ‘pressing global health threat’ with the effects on mortality being roughly equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Think about that. How many anti- smoking campaigns, posters, messages have we seen over the years, how many people do we listen to talking about kicking the habit versus even the lowest wattage of spotlight being shone on loneliness?

Loneliness can affect mental health, physical health which in turn lead to extra pressure on the health service and additional societal costs. It can affect performance at work, the ability to create social connections and can contribute to people dying earlier (and if employers need cold hard financial incentives to sit up and take notice: loneliness is estimated to cost employers £2.5 billion per year, across turnover, absence, productivity etc according to government guidance)

They say many people are potentially only three paychecks away from being homeless. Given the way social circles constrict as you grow older, there are no doubt people who are probably 2 or 3 meaningful connections away from being effectively alone in the world.

A Meta-Gallup poll in October, ran across more than 140 countries, identified that over 25% of people felt ‘very/fairly’ lonely. A vastly underappreciated issue has spread worldwide.

Research done by WHO found that 20% of workers admitted they feel lonely at work on a typical working day and 23% agreed this affected their mental health.

Neither is it an issue only among certain demographics. Age, gender, race etc does not prevent someone from feeling lonely.

Being part of a company, with tens, hundreds or thousands of employees also does not prevent loneliness. You can be surrounded by people all day every day and still feel isolated.

Recent work trends have also not helped. While the increase in remote working has allowed employees a little more to find more time to connect face to face with family and friends a significant downside is that it has also decreased their opportunity to do the same with work colleagues. Accordingly, for those that have a small social circle this restricts another avenue for them to make meaningful connections.

Social media such as WhatsApp, Telegram etc, can help join people together when they live far apart, however humans also crave face to face interaction. We are pack animals at heart.

Interacting with people at work means exposure to different cultures, thinking and beliefs. It creates the opportunity to make new connections outside our normal bubble.

At this time of year loneliness can also be significantly exacerbated. The media ramps up adverts of families, friends and people enjoying the company of others. Many at work take extended leave and the office becomes a much quieter place to be. It’s a time we should be extra vigilant.

So, if we recognise that there is an issue, there are ways companies/employees can try and help combat this issue:

  • Include all your teammates in activities where possible.
  • Even if embracing remote working, have days where people will definitely be in the office so there is an opportunity to socialise and work together.
  • Remember that you also connect with employees who are remote working via online team meetings/chats/1-2-1s etc
  • Makes sure new staff are integrated properly into the business.
  • Develop emotional intelligence capacity in your workplace; sometimes loneliness can be a root cause that other symptoms/issues are masking.
  • Keep a watch out for staff who are routinely working excessive hours and potentially reducing their meaningful time with family and friends outside of work.
  • Ensure managers provide proper time to have 1-2-1 contact with staff.
  • Structure the office so it has sufficient private spaces for people to talk.
  • Focus on employee wellbeing. Make this part and parcel of everyday working life.
  • Create an inclusive culture, with values that speak to team and not only the individual.
  • Listen to all, don’t just focus on those who shout loudest.
  • Promote staff networks (whether social or professional).
  • Try to increase opportunities for staff to work with employees outside their team or their department.
  • Recognise the importance of mental health and provide avenues for staff to get support if they need it.
  • Create awareness, it’s easier to watch out for a problem if people know about it.

Let’s remember that not all people who don’t speak much at work are being rude or aloof. Many can simply be shy or struggle to find entry points into groups and conversations that are well established. Perhaps they don’t get much practice at social interaction outside of work.

Maybe they need a little coaxing to join in, someone else to take the first step. They can enjoy the craic as much as the next person, they may just enjoy it via watching and listening more than being the centre of attention. Equally the loudest may be sometimes be most in need of actual meaningful connections.

We're all different, but we can all benefit from connections. Although it can seem to bite harder during holiday and ‘together’ periods; let’s also remember that loneliness can be felt all the year round.

The workplace and work community offers an excellent opportunity to help fight against this. Let’s be a little more aware of our colleagues and do what we can to help.

:: Barry Shannon is head of HR at STATSports