One of the side effects of modern society is an increase in people feeling lonely. As we move many of our daily activities online, whether it’s shopping, learning or social media, many people are feeling left behind. Loneliness was already a concerning issue before the rise of Covid-19 but the pandemic has only made things worse. Stay at home orders, social distancing and working from home have all had an effect, leading to more people than ever, feeling isolated and alone.
One of the areas in which loneliness is particularly problematic is within the workplace. Obviously, more people than ever before are working from home and whilst this may provide some benefits, one of the major downsides is isolation. Interaction with co-workers, whether professional or social, can help to improve productivity and mental health. There may be a focus on those who work from home but employees based within the office can also face loneliness. Workers can be surrounded by people but still feel lonely, if they’re isolated, ignored or just feel like an outsider.
It can be easy to brush off loneliness as something trivial but it can have a serious effect on people, both physically and mentally. Research has shown that feelings of loneliness lead to higher rates of stress and we know that stress has a detrimental effect on all aspects of health. In terms of how this impacts business, employees who are feeling lonely and therefore stressed, won’t be working at their best. Therefore, it benefits both employers and staff to tackle this problem.
Changing the layout of an office may seem ineffectual but it can completely transform how your staff interact. Offices which separate employees into cubicles or small groups can create a environment which lends itself to isolation. If you’re worried about any of your workers or you think the overall staff could be working better with each other, why not open up the office? Create an open plan in which employees are encouraged to interact, allowing for organic socialising and team activities.
For those who are feeling stressed, anxious or lonely, talking about their problems can really help. Unfortunately, many workers feel embarrassed to bring up personal issues at the office and others feel like they won’t be taken seriously. This is a where manager needs to ensure their office is an open and welcoming place for employees. Encourage your staff to come forward if they have any issues and talk with their manager or HR department. This allows the company to intervene and provide assistance but just providing an ear can help in itself.
Proactively talking with employees is also important as many probably won’t come forward with any problems they may have. It’s not always the quiet workers who are feeling lonely, those who appear outwardly confident and happy may also be struggling. It’s only through getting to know your staff that you will notice subtle changes in behaviour.
As we know, remote working has become much more popular in recent years, particularly post-pandemic. Those who work from home can often feel forgotten by their workplace, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Whilst it’s easy for managers to focus on the employees they’re interacting with every day, it’s important to acknowledge remote workers too. Try to keep in regular contact with your staff who work from home, whether through email or a quick chat on the phone. Also, regular virtual meetings will allow you to ensure everyone is on the same page, whilst also acknowledging your remote workers.
Whilst feelings of loneliness are becoming more common- it’s very rare that they develop in a vacuum. There are many mitigating factors which can lead to someone being predisposed to these types of feelings. For example, poor physical health, lack of sleep, stress, anxiety and exhaustion can all lead to poor mental health and potential feelings of isolation.
As a business owner or manager, you have the ability to encourage healthy practices. However, this means acting proactively, even if it doesn’t make the best business sense. For example, telling your staff to take regular breaks when they’re under stress or understanding when an employee needs to take time off.
Feelings of loneliness, particularly within the workplace can be a touchy subject and many people opt to suffer in silence. However, businesses can do more to tackle this issue, ensuring all of their employees are feeling their best and therefore working at their best.