Since the COVID-19 outbreak, feelings of loneliness have risen. With ever-changing restrictions, travel bans and social distancing, it comes as no surprise that 2020 has left us feeling pretty disconnected and isolated. An interactive work environment brings a sense of belonging and purpose. Lack of interaction can increase feelings of loneliness which can greatly dent our wellbeing. In this article, we look at the ways you can support employees facing loneliness during this period.
What Does Loneliness Do To Our Wellbeing?
A survey conducted by Total Jobs (March 2020) presents employees who feel lonely at work are significantly more stressed than those that do not. Not only does loneliness affect our stress levels, but it also affects our self-esteem and our relationships. Furthermore, it can impact our sleep; sleep and our mental health are intrinsically linked and low quality sleep leads to feelings of anxiousness, depression and stress.
Why Do We Feel Lonely?
Chances are we have all felt lonely at some stage this year. Without the circumstances of COVID-19, we can be surrounded by many people and still feel lonely. Loneliness can occur for a number of reasons, ranging from societal pressures, feeling like you don’t fit in, for fear of looking weak, considered incompetent or unable to cope.
How Does Loneliness Affect Our Ability To Work?
Loneliness can affect our ability to perform. Research indicates the lonelier we feel, the higher impact this will have on our ability to carry out tasks, our relational performance and the ability to fulfil our role within the team.
When an individual feels lonely, it’s not only them that suffers. Teams and workgroups also suffer. Employees without a work buddy or ‘friend’ have a one in 12 chance of being engaged at work. Whilst those with a close work friend are more likely to be engaged within their role, present stronger relationships with customers, and produce higher quality work. Growing loneliness amongst employees can result in being absent from work, or employees quitting their job altogether.
How To Support Employees Facing Loneliness
Winter can already feel like a lonely time of year with long nights and cold days. This year in particular for young single people working from home. The loss of he physical workplace has removed a significant part of their lives and their livelihood. However, you can help to bridge the gap between bonds and build relationships to prevent further loneliness and isolation.
Maintain Honest and Open Communication
Lack of communication can lead to feelings of anxiety and worry. Effective communication in the workplace can be done through monthly or quarterly catch-ups for the purpose to share information about any business changes, to all areas of the company.
If some of your staff are on furlough, include them regularly in team communication, where possible. Although they will be signed off forms of work-based communication furloughed staff can feel even more isolated and lack of communication can increase feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Instead, make use of other means of communication to make them feel included.
Promote Learning and Development
Working towards personal goals is important. However, with frozen budgets or employees placed on furlough, some employees may feel their chances of career progression has been put on hold.
Create assurance for all staff, including those that are working remotely or on furlough, about new skills they can learn. Promote the opportunity for furloughed staff to aid their career development by taking up a course and remind them the business supports learning and development, despite the pandemic.
Host A Consistent Stream of Socials
Social events in workplaces play a big part in the overall wellbeing of your employees. As mentioned, teams also suffer when someone is facing loneliness, not just the individual. Many workplaces are used to weekly socials amongst teams, therefore maintaining these types of events is very important.
Organise Friday catch ups for employees to let off some steam and maintain social contact. This is especially important for those living alone. You could also set up a social channel on virtual tools such as Slack for employees to chat between work with colleagues, as they would whilst working at the office. Whilst this doesn’t compensate for face-to-face interaction, it does provide regular social support.
Encourage Them To Focus On Their Wellbeing
It is important workplaces encourage and emphasise the importance of wellbeing. During the winter months employers can promote its importance by allowing a daylight hour; this is so employees can get out during the day to avoid conditions such as SAD, you could also cut meetings down to 55 minutes or 25 minutes to give employees a break between meetings.
Focusing on wellbeing can be done in a number of ways, it doesn’t require sitting on a yoga mat in silence. Instead share ideas about hobbies you have, be it physical activity, writing, painting, cycling or reading which may inspire your team to do the same. By concentrating on themselves in their free time, they’re able to return to work with not only a fresh mind but also a clearer perspective.
Encourage Them to Talk
Many employees who express feelings of loneliness believe they are unable to talk about their loneliness, with anyone, let alone their employer. The study conducted by Totaljobs found one in four men and one in five women have not told anyone about their loneliness.
By encouraging them to talk about their loneliness and wellbeing with friends, family, a partner, or colleagues you’re also able to open up the opportunity for them to talk to you, if they wish to. Opening up can be difficult for many of us, but staying silent only exasperates a moment of fragility. If a member of your team appears to be struggling, asking them “are you okay?” and actively listening can make a significant difference in helping them face a mental health issue. Often when we are struggling inside, we don’t wish to be fixed, we just want to be heard.
Anything shared about a mental health condition is considered sensitive information. If someone opens up to you about how they are feeling, respect their privacy. Passing information on unnecessarily only breaches trust between you and the individual. Unless you believe or feel they, or someone else is in danger surrounding the situation, any information shared should be kept confidential.
The aforementioned are simple and easy ways to support employees facing loneliness during this sensitive and challenging time. Whilst it may not cure everything, it will help employees feel more motivated, productive and engaged with the business and colleagues.
If you are concerned an employee requires extra support, reach out and set up one-to-ones whereby you can recommend additional support provided by the business or externally.
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