Loneliness is not just a personal issue

The issue of loneliness has many dimensions, we suggest some actions for organisations to consider and have created a resource section on the topic.

The past fifteen months have perhaps made more people than usual reflect on the sentiment, “I like being on my own but don’t like being alone”.

We may have discovered we can have too much solitude or, conversely, that even with a house full of people and online communication, we feel lonely.  Not to mention those of us who have lost someone and experienced the loneliness of grief, or the feelings of loneliness that a change to our work or personal circumstances can bring.

For many, the feelings and effect of loneliness may be temporary.  But back in 2017, the New Economics Foundation found that ‘extreme’ loneliness, feeling lonely most or all of the time, has not only a personal cost but a significant cost to business.  Contrary to thoughts that loneliness was an issue affecting older people, their round up of studies discovered that it was present across all age groups, and they provided a conservative estimate of it being experienced by over a million workers in the UK. The estimated cost to UK employers was £2.5billion.

The figures reached by the New Economics Foundation suggest that, for both financial and employee wellbeing reasons, it is in an employers’ interests to take action to minimise employee loneliness.

What actions can an organisation take to lessen loneliness?

Loneliness was, until recently, one of those topics which carried a stigma and was considered uncomfortable to talk about.  Perhaps, our shared experience of lockdown has broken down that stigma slightly and made it a topic that is becoming easier to discuss.  The following are a few suggestions to open the conversation and take action in a working environment.

Communication – humans are social animals and connections are vital for our emotional wellbeing.  For some, their connections at work may be the only interactions they have each day.  Employers can raise awareness and highlight the part everyone in an organisation can play, it does not just have to be interactions between departmental colleagues.

Research carried out by Epley and Schroeder 2014 found that talking to strangers in a commuting context was found to be an equally positive experience for those who were talked to as those instructed to talk.

Continued Communication – good ideas for social interactions at work usually start well but, even with the best intentions, tend to wane over time due to work pressures.  Ask for opinions and ideas for the best way to keep in contact, especially during continued periods of home working.  Remembering that individualism will play a part and one solution may not suit every member of a team.

New Starter Inclusion – in our current times, there may be people who joined over a year ago and have yet to physically meet anyone in their new organisation.  Discuss the best way to make any new starts feel welcome and get to know their new colleagues, as well as the wider workforce community.  Perhaps arranging for new starts to meet their co-workers on a one-to-one basis, have a mentor they can reach out to, and the option of joining a social virtual tea break with other new starts from time to time.

Social Interaction - always a difficult balance which will never suit everybody but give thought to the ratio of digital messaging and face-to-face conversations and meetings.  If in the workplace, make the most of the summer weather and encourage socially distanced breaks outside rather than eating a solitary sandwich at a desk.  Once easier to do so again, or online if possible, encourage those within an organisation who share similar interests to join a group or social activity together.

 

Loneliness Resources

We have recently spent some time looking at the conversation around loneliness in the workplace and have put together a collection of resources on the topic which you can find below.  We have added this section to our Mental Health in the Workplace Resources page and included a link to it on both our Wellbeing at Work Resources and Coronavirus Support and Resources pages.

Employers and Loneliness Guidance
The Government published this paper in May 2021 during the Coronavirus pandemic. Produced by the Campaign to End Loneliness, it highlights the projected cost of loneliness in the workplace and its toll on both personal wellbeing and productivity.  Through consultation with businesses and employers who both recognise loneliness in the workplace and support employees’ social wellbeing, five themes have been identified to tackle loneliness at work.  Its aim is to provide a starting point for organisations to open a conversation about what can be done to address loneliness in their workforce and the wider community and includes case studies of good practice.

Feeling Lonely
A page on the NHS website has suggested dos and don’ts to help with feelings of loneliness that include links to relevant resources and further reading.

Feeling Lonely? Get Support
The British Red Cross have lots of resources on their website including this page which provides some resources for building confidence and connections, details of a podcast series with people talking about how loneliness affects them, a downloadable wellbeing resources pack, along with many other links and tips.

Guide to Loneliness
The Marmalade Trust, who host the Loneliness Awareness Week campaign, have a Guide to Loneliness on their website which includes tips for feeling more connected at home, in the community, at school and at work.

#Let’s Talk Loneliness
Launched in 2019 by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the campaign aims to help end the stigma associated with loneliness and to encourage people to talk about it.  The website offers advice and resources for individuals and offers a toolkit for employers.

Loneliness Directory
On the Jo Cox Foundation’s website, is a directory of organisations who offer advice and support.  The directory is divided into support for older people, support for specific groups, volunteering opportunities, connecting with new people, and getting emotional support.

Loneliness in Young People
The Mental Health Foundation is involved in two collaborative campaigns to tackle loneliness and details of each can be found on this page of their website.
Unlock Loneliness has the aim of raising awareness of loneliness in young people and provides tips and policy recommendations.
What’s Up With Everyone? This campaign includes an animated story about loneliness and isolation entitled “What’s Up With Merve?: Loneliness” and the campaign website has further advice and sources of support.

Tips to Manage Loneliness
In their Tips for Everyday Living section, Mind have 3 pages looking at loneliness. They include looking at its causes, tips to manage feelings of loneliness, and suggestions of where else to go for support.

 

Wellbeing training and Loneliness

Many of our training courses include a discussion around social connection being one of the major protective factors for our wellbeing:
Managing our Mental Health while Working from Home
Mental Health Awareness Training for Managers, Supervisors & Team Leaders 
Mental Health Awareness Training for all Employees 
Resiliency Training in the Workplace for Managers & Staff
The Science of Wellbeing

If you would like to have a conversation about training requirements or would like further details about any of these courses, please either complete and return our contact form, or call the number you will find on it.  We’ll look forward to hearing from you.

 

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