Loneliness at Work
The beginning of a new year is a time of new starts and resolutions, when people can look ahead with hope and anticipation. However it’s also a time when many feel at their lowest and in workplaces across the country, hidden in plain sight, are some of loneliest workers in the UK. Despite being surrounded by their colleagues day-in and day-out, many are feeling considerably isolated. So, why is this and what can be done about it?
The social impact of technology
Over-reliance on technology is cited as one of the main causes of today’s workplace loneliness epidemic. The rise of technology has indeed connected us together on a global scale, allowing instant interactions from one side of the world to the other. However the technologies that connect us are, in fact, making us more socially disconnected than ever before.
Many of us have grown-up with technology at our fingertips and are now heavily reliant on it for day-to-day interactions. Instead of speaking to a colleague who is sitting next to us, it’s now all too common to send an email or an instant message, thereby missing-out on that all-important human connection.
Creating a culture of connection
The solution relies on prioritising people’s emotional and social wellbeing in which human connections are encouraged. Here are some ways organisations can tackle loneliness in the workplace while creating a culture that supports workplace wellness:
Look beyond the physical – Many organisations have wellbeing programmes that focus on the physical wellbeing of their staff. However it’s important to consider people’s holistic wellbeing so that they are happier, healthier and better prepared to deal with the challenges of their jobs. In fact, when social and emotional wellbeing are prioritised, employees are 52 per cent more likely to feel less stress than average.
Have an inclusive approach – For people to be their authentic selves at work it’s important that the company has a policy of inclusiveness that is lived and breathed. Inclusiveness isn’t just about diversity but is about ensuring people feel as though they ‘belong’ and are a valued member of the organisation regardless of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation or background.
Encourage face-to-face communication – Technology is still a vital part of modern business life, however it shouldn’t totally replace face-to-face interactions. So encourage a workplace filled with camaraderie and friendship, providing opportunities for employees to get together during office hours.
Champion a good work/life integration – Organisations need to allow people to enjoy their lives outside of work. This means establishing policies so that workers can decide to what degree they want to integrate their work and personal lives. This approach can pay dividends because when employees are forced to respond to work-related issues while away from work, they are 34 per cent more likely to leave the organisation. On the flipside, when employees have control over how their personal and working lives are integrated, they will be 53 per cent more satisfied with employee wellbeing at their organisation.
Create a social space – It’s vital to offer communal spaces that facilitate relationship building and collaboration in addition to areas where workers can enjoy some ‘personal space’ as required. When a workplace environment allows for sharing, relationship building and connections, employees are 84 per cent more likely to have a close friend at work.
Appreciate and recognise – There is a direct correlation between wellbeing and appreciation and so don’t forget to build a culture that regularly recognises efforts and celebrates results in a genuine and meaningful way. When employees experience recognition, this leads to a 33 per cent increase in a sense of belonging.
A last word
The rise of technology has proven both a blessing and a burden, however it’s not too late to address the growing loneliness epidemic. Organisations that put people’s social and emotional wellbeing first by building positive, appreciative and social cultures which encourage camaraderie and workplace friendships, will benefit from a much happier and healthier workforce.
*Research findings taken from The O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2018 Global Culture Report
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Robert joined O.C. Tanner in 2014. From luxury retail at Harrods to Premier League football with Fulham Football Club, Robert's HR career spans more than twenty years. This, combined with his operational experience, gives him a real passion for creating a workplace culture that truly helps people thrive every day.