Loneliness is a sad and painful ailment, defined as “a complex set of feelings that occurs when intimate and social needs are not adequately met”. It is important for employers to understand that loneliness causes a different emotional response than depression, anxiety and stress. Loneliness is based upon the quality, rather than quantity, of an employee’s social relationships and the accompanying actions and replies they experience on a daily basis.

A recent study by Totaljobs found that 60% of employees feel lonely at work. This staggering statistic emphasises just how far reaching loneliness and poor health affects employees in general, regardless of the industry or line of work they are in. It becomes clear from figures such as these that employers are not investing enough into employee well-being when it comes to loneliness and the consequent mental ailments and emotional disorder which arise from it.

What causes Loneliness?

Unsurprisingly, loneliness and mental wellbeing are strongly linked to each other. When an employee feels lonely and isolated there is a greater likelihood that their mental health will be affected, and conversely if an employee has a mental health problem, they are more likely to feel lonely. All too often individuals who experience different mental ailments, such as depression, end up withdrawing from the social circles they are connected to.

Totaljobs found that the main reasons people feel lonely are:

  • 44% – Feeling too much pressure
  • 42% – Feeling as if they don’t fit in
  • 32% – Self isolation
  • 26% – Not knowing anybody
  • 23% – Experience mental health problems
  • 21% – Facing discrimination

For any employers looking to address loneliness levels within their workplace, it becomes clear from the above that there is no single underlying reason causing loneliness. Instead it becomes necessary to take each employee as individual cases who have their own specific reasons for why they feel this way.

How does Loneliness affect Employee Wellbeing?

A large majority of workers who feel lonely are afflicted by increased stress levels, this coming about as a result of higher social anxiety levels, as well as there being more opportunities for rampant negative thoughts and emotion to take hold. Stress is inevitable within any workplace and in small, manageable quantities can actually be beneficial for both employees and their productivity levels. Depending on the industry and role certain occupations will induce higher stress levels than others, however, when individuals feel burdened by loneliness and unmanageable stress levels the possibility of mental health problems arising rise steeply. 

Alongside this loneliness will also negatively impact upon an employee’s self-esteem which can have a knock-on effect for an individual’s personal and social life. Losing confidence internally will reflect externally creating a worse environment for an employee creating a spiral of negativity which many may find difficult to recover from.

Sleep is essential to everyday life but can be significantly disturbed by loneliness and stress levels. A poor and troubled sleep pattern can damage mental health and remove effective mental functionality during both personal and work hours. Many employees turn to medication to remedy this problem; however, this can result in a worker feel drowsy and lacking concentration during their waking hours. Something highly undesirable for any employer.

Due to these symptoms it is only logical, from an employer’s perspective, that a comprehensive well-being programme which addresses workplace loneliness ought to be implemented. Being able to reduce, and alleviate well-being ailments for employees proves to be a worthwhile investment, with Deloitte supporting this statement in their “Thriving at Work” Review, finding that for every £1 which is invested into a well-being programme, a return to business of £1.50 – £9.00 is made.

Employer Well-being Methods which tackle Loneliness

Understanding what loneliness is, and how it affects different people, forms the foundation for an employer to build an initiative which can adequately address and resolve loneliness is a workplace.

The following suggestions are but a few of the potential ways an employer can look to implement in order to combat employee loneliness.

Encourage open communication within the workplace

Begin by introducing discussions centred around employee well-being and let people know that you run an “Open Door Policy” when it comes to matters of employee wellbeing. During these talks/presentations make specific reference ‘Loneliness’ and ‘Mental Well-being’ and how communication about these issues will be strictly confidential. Staying silent is very common with regards to well-being problems, being one of the first major obstacles an employer will need to confront when looking to effectively bring about change in the workplace.

Keep in mind that sometimes opening up to a workplace colleague about how an individual feels and any issues they have may be preferable than going straight to management about their concerns and worries. This is still a positive step towards the betterment of your workplace culture and can often lead to employees becoming more willing to talk to managers once they have divulged to a colleague. Employers and management should make sure that the entire workforce knows that they care, that there will be no judgement, and that conversations about these worries can be had when an employee feels comfortable in doing so.

When these concerns are brought to management, or an employer, make sure to be sympathetic, actively listening to all of an employee’s problems, not being dismissive at any time. Demonstrating this approach can make a huge difference for individuals who suffer from loneliness or mental health problems. Having a lifeline present can prevent an emotional crisis and begin individuals on the path to internal stability.

Develop a Workplace Culture which is Inclusive and Supportive

Workplace culture is vital to ensuring any business’ success. A motivated, happy and supported staff is proven to have greater creativity, be more productive and represent a company in a more confident manner. All of these factors affect the profitability and reputation of a business over time, but they also increase the mood and internal security of employees.

Starting a well-being initiative at the earliest possible point from a workforce will result in an easier transition for all workers when becoming accustomed to a workplace’s culture. By integrating new recruits and providing mentorship from the first day of employment, the likelihood of loneliness becoming prevalent in individuals will be significantly lowered. Linking to the previous suggestion, an employee who feels able to openly communicate with their own colleague, or mentor, is far more likely discuss their problems, such as loneliness, with management and employers.

Planning social events such a club and group exercises can create a sense of openness between a workforce and establish stronger bonds, tackling loneliness and team building in conjunction with each other. However, whilst these activities can create strong group dynamics it is imperative that these are monitored closely, otherwise the possibility for cliques to be formed can arise. This could lead to employees who are not partaking in certain activities feeling left out, emphasising the feelings of loneliness and actually causing the problem which it is trying to solve. Taking careful consideration of what activities and events are offered will be central when these constructing this section of a wellbeing initiative.

Optimise your Office Layout

In certain circumstances an office layout can heavily affected loneliness, as some members of a team may be separated from the majority. While no employers want their staff to be frequently distracting each other, it is essential that they communicate amongst themselves for their general wellbeing and mood. Humans are social creatures and this requirement ought to be fostered; for individuals who experience loneliness, simply listening to conversations in their proximity can be reassuring.

Be Mindful of Management

Whilst these initiatives necessitate competent management to implement them, employers have to consider their managers in relation to loneliness as well. In fact, due to their more solitary roles and workload requirements being higher, it is appropriate to see these individuals as the most vulnerable to being lonely. To perform adequate well-being measures for management distinct measures, or variations of the aforementioned techniques need to be used by employers themselves.

For example, rather than having an employee talk to someone with a senior role, a member of management ought to discuss their issues with an employer if possible. Ensuring managers have a strong relationship with their team will bring numerous workplace and mental benefits, as happy managers often influence a workforce to be happier. In addition, if a manager is feeling more internally stable and connected then they will be better at addressing any loneliness or mental issues brought before them, instead of reflecting negativity at any employee attempts to communicate their issues openly.