Many UK workers believe it is the responsibility of their employer to take action to support mental health challenges associated with remote and flexible working. This includes solutions to combat the rising rates of loneliness since the pandemic.
In 2016 – 2017, data showed “45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes, or often lonely in England”. Findings today reveal that 1 in 3 “see themselves as loners” and 1 in 4 “feel disconnected from their team.”
The shift towards flexible work has likely caused an increase in feelings of isolation, but as research shows, loneliness was prevalent long before Covid-19. We are now a year into hybrid working and loneliness amongst employees seems to remain high.
It substantially impacts both employee and employer – said to cost around £2.5 billion per year for UK employers. The reasons for such costs include “ill health and associated sickness absence”, lower productivity and engagement. When people feel lonely, they’re more likely to suffer from poor mental health, low quality sleep, and compromised health immunity.
We know many leaders are focusing on employee wellbeing – Forbes branded 2022 “The Year Of The Employee” – though at Serenity in Leadership, we still know more work needs to be done to eradicate negative work cultures that impact wellbeing. Here is how you can help your team overcome loneliness.
1. Address the stigma
On a Thought for the Week video, our CEO, Thom Dennis, describes the three pillars of loneliness:
Loneliness is a complex construct – a state of mind that causes feelings of emptiness and isolation. The stigma attached makes it difficult to know who truly suffers. By addressing the subject within your organisation, you can help normalise the conversation around loneliness. Not everyone recognises the signs to look out for – some people might feel demotivated at work, unaware of the connection between motivation and social inclusion.
If staff feel lonely, they may link their negative feelings to their job role and company, which may affect employee retention.
2. Look at psychological safety
When we work with organisations on culture, we make sure to analyse psychological safety. We know leaders who do not prioritise psychological safety are usually disconnected from staff.
If people do not trust their leaders enough to share how they feel, problems such as loneliness will sit under the carpet and silently cause a back-log of issues. Our blog article on creating a speak-up culture at work explains how leaders can put this into practice.
3. Promote inclusion
As our CEO shared with publication “PA Life”, “inclusion builds psychological safety” and “is good for collaboration”.
People who feel lonely will also feel secluded. They may lack a sense of belonging that we all crave in our organisations. Inclusion, therefore, is significant in helping employees overcome loneliness.
Inclusion can be encouraged by demonstrating empathy – attentively listening, asking questions, not making judgments, and recognising all perspectives. Unconscious biases often affect how included people feel, so strong D&I training is advisable.
Leaders can foster a culture of inclusion by mixing up teams (to encourage diverse perspectives) and by celebrating or acknowledging the different holidays every staff member celebrates.
4. Find out what feels meaningful
Some organisations have values in place that lack any real meaning. Part of our approach to culture change involves working with a leadership team to define the values of their business, and then supporting leaders in applying those values.
Purpose-driven values should be an integral part of strategy, embedded in all business functions. As loneliness impacted employees before flexible working, employers must understand that it takes more than bringing employees together to solve exclusion. A great way to connect employees is to create a shared sense of purpose around work.
Managers do not always realise what feels meaningful to an employee, so it is important to ask.
Suggested Read: How to Create a Purpose-Driven Culture
5. Appoint an employee champion
We understand leaders and executives have numerous pressures and challenges to navigate – especially in our current ambiguous environment. It can be difficult to find the time to measure wellbeing strategies on a routine basis.
An employee champion at work with training on employee wellbeing and loneliness, can ease pressure from the C-Suite and become an extra ally for staff to confidently engage with.
If you feel loneliness is having a negative affect at your organisation, or you would like some support in bringing your team together, why not consider contacting us for further guidance.