The focus of this year’s National Mental Health Week is loneliness. Nearly all of us have experienced loneliness at some time in our lives and usually this passes almost immediately. However, when these feelings don’t go away, they can cause mental health problems such as fatigue, anxiety or depression.
Loneliness has affected 4 in 5 of the UK population at some point, with 20% of UK citizens feeling lonely most or all of the time. Physiologically, long-term loneliness is more damaging to health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
It’s a problem that affects employees of all ages and classes. Even within a busy environment, those disconnected from the people around them will become lonely and isolated.
Disconnection from Colleagues
Spending 40-50 hours a week isolated from those around you will have a detrimental effect on anybody. Workplace loneliness has a damaging impact on individual performance because it hinders engagement with work. The organisations failing to address employee isolation run the risk of higher absenteeism, poor performance and poor retention rates.
Employers concerned that their employees are isolated should have easy access to tools to manage this. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) allow employees to speak to a confidential resource about issues that are affecting them. If workplace isolation is an issue, then a good EAP will give the tools to the employee to make friends within the workplace.
With no one at work they feel comfortable or able to confide in, a higher percentage of managers feel isolated at work. Their role often means they are divided from the rest of their team and pressures from above only compound their isolation. An Employee Assistance Programme is a great way for companies to deal with their manager’s stress.
Building stronger workplace relationships: 8 Tips
- Assess the situation: If you suspect a colleague is lonely, investigate further. See the 12 question loneliness checklist below.
- Change your way of working: Does your work encourage competitiveness? Often this leads to mistrust and antagonistic behaviour.
- Build a team with a shared direction: Giving a shared purpose to your staff is a great way to build team spirit.
- Encourage good relationships: Team building exercises are a great way to build good relationships. On the flip side, be aware of negative behaviour such as rudeness or exclusion, which, although challenging to articulate as a complaint, amounts to workplace bullying.
- Take an interest in people’s lives: Seems obvious but taking a couple of minutes to be understood as an individual and not a cog in the machine creates inclusion.
- Remember the little things: Inclusion in a tea round or even being polite allows them to feel valued.
- Tackle exhaustion: A vicious circle! The more tired someone is, the more isolated they become: Isolation increases fatigue. Ensure that work-life balance is maintained, even nurtured.
- Remember remote team members: Checking in on your colleagues outside of virtual meetings and emails, is a great way to show that they’re essential.
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Workplace Loneliness Conclusion
For some, being in the office may bring a respite from loneliness; for others, a crowded office is where they feel most lonely. Creating an environment where colleagues feel valued and included should be the priority of companies that care about their employees and their bottom line. Sometimes, there will still be those who feel isolated, often those who appear to be at the centre of things.
Typically, employees who feel isolated at work experience less job commitment and satisfaction. They also report higher levels of physiological problems. The simple question is, “Do you have a good friend at work?” If the answer is “no” it’s a strong indicator of workplace loneliness.
A good employee assistance programme is a great way to assist those who struggle with any amount of stress, including workplace loneliness. To discover more about how EAP can help your organisation, see https://www.mystaffshop.com/employee-assistance-program/
Instructions: The following statements describe how people sometimes feel. For each statement please indicate how often you feel the way described using the numbers below. There are no right or wrong answers.
1=Never 2=Rarely 3=Sometimes 4=Always
- How often do you feel unhappy doing so many things alone?
- How often do you feel you have no one to talk to?
- How often do you feel you cannot tolerate being so alone?
- How often do you feel as if no one understands you?
- How often do you find yourself waiting for people to call or write?
- How often do you feel completely alone?
- How often do you feel unable to reach out and communicate with those around you?
- How often do you feel starved for company?
- How often do you feel it is difficult for you to make friends?
- How often do you feel shut out and excluded by others?
Scoring: A total score is computed by adding up the response to each question. The average loneliness score on the measure is 20. A score of 25 or higher reflects a high level of loneliness. A score of 30 or higher reflects a very high level of loneliness.