Is loneliness the next workplace ticking time bomb?

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Four in 10 report having no close friends at work at all, according to a new survey of 5000 people by relationship charity Relate.

Most workers also have much more contact with their boss and colleagues than with their own friends or close family.

The study found a link between low self-esteem and poor work-life balance.

It also found that one in three workers polled believe their employer considers those prepared to prioritise work over family as more productive. Among Generation Y workers, this rises to two-fifths. It also rises for higher earners.

Outside of the workplace, one in 10 reported having no close friendships at all - equal to 4.7 million people if taken as a proportion of the adult population.

Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of Relate, said: “The results around how close we feel to others are very concerning.

“Relationships are the asset which can get us through good times and bad, and it is worrying to think that there are people who feel they have no one they can turn to during life’s challenges.”

Close contact and quality relationships are a fundamental component to a healthy work-life balance. Should employers be doing more to help employees facilitate better relationships, both at work and at home?

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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14th Aug 2014 10:59

Hi Jamie,

Brilliant article. I think loneliness is a massive problem in workforces all across the UK. It is also worth noting the huge level of work-related stress cases there are in the UK, it caused the loss of 10.4m working days in the year 2011/12. Here at Social Circle we have come up with a bespoke way of addressing this problem. If you get a chance, have a look at my blog, I explain how!
http://www.gmchamberblog.co.uk/2014/07/member-blog-so-how-do-we-make-our...

Thank you.

Stephen

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14th Aug 2014 13:19

Perhaps we need to be more careful when hiring employees?

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19th Aug 2014 16:14

Four in ten have no close friends at work?  Are they trying?  Do they want workmates?  Perhaps they're not interested in the people they work beside and have little in common.  Maybe they have something to do on a Friday night besides go down the pub and drink with people that they normally have to be paid to associate with.  Maybe they'd rather go to their yoga/karate/salsa class, their date with a significant other, or just meet their friends on Xbox.  They may have enough acquaintances on social media that they don't feel they need any more.  Some people are intensely private and prefer to keep their work and personal life strictly compartmentalised.

And the fact that many people spend more time with their colleagues than family is just a function of modern work patterns. Remove seven hours a night sleeping time and the two days a week you don't work, and there's only 85 hours left in the week.  If you're doing a 40-hour week, that's half the time.  It's not an unusual statistic, it's simply how things are for anybody working full-time in a place that's not their home.

Should employers be trying to facilitate better relationships in the workplace?  Absolutely.

Unfortunately, many employers will make the mistake of trying to force this.  And as with any other relationship, force never works.  You can't make people bond.  You can't make them like each other.  You can insist that they act like professionals and work together, but teamwork is almost always something organic.  It grows and flows naturally out of common purpose, and common challenge.  For some people, this will have a knock-on effect - they're being more social/sociable at work, accepting invites to the pub, or a barbecue, and this will naturally expand their social circle.  Teamwork stimulates relationships, not the other way around.

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