This week is mental health awareness week and an opportunity for individuals and organisations to raise awareness of all issues surrounding mental health. This year the theme is “loneliness”, with previous years themes including kindness and body image.
The Mental Health Foundation says: “One in four adults feel lonely some or all of the time. There’s no single cause and there’s no one solution. For Mental Health Awareness Week this year, we’re raising awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental health and the practical steps we can take to address it.”
When it comes to the workplace, research from Total Jobs found that three in five employees (60%) feel lonely at work and 68% say that feeling lonely has increased their stress levels. Employees can feel lonely at work for a variety of reasons such as feeling as though they don’t fit in, not knowing anyone, discrimination, feeling pressured or perhaps an existing mental health condition which makes it harder for an employee to be their true self in the noisy, often overwhelming offices. Remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic exasperated workplace loneliness with a staggering 67% saying they felt disconnected from colleagues whilst working from home.
Loneliness in the workplace is a large issue and one not to be ignored, as loneliness can manifest in employees and increase stress, depression, low self-esteem and as a result, lower productivity, and higher levels of absenteeism. In fact, loneliness was found to the be the cause of at least 5 sick days a year and 26% of workers have actually left their job altogether due to feeling lonely there.
Ruth Sutherland, CEO at Samaritans says “We spend the majority of our time at work, so developing relationships with colleagues can promote good health and help people manage stress.”
Loneliness is subjective and there is no one vision of what loneliness “looks like” and some employees won’t like to admit their feelings due to shame, embarrassment and many other reasons. As an employer the best approach you can take is getting to know all your employees on a personal level, find out who they are and what they are like so you can better recognise when they’re not themselves and somewhat disconnected.
How else can you support colleagues who feel lonely in the workplace?
Talk to them
If you suspect someone is disconnected and struggling with their mental health sometimes the smallest of things can make a big difference such as a simple “hello”, or “how are you?”.
Mental health is deeply personal and if someone confides in you, respect their confidentiality, and don’t share it with everyone in the office, as this could do greater damage to their mental health and could increase their feelings of alienation further.
Create an environment where everyone can thrive
Designing an office layout can be very challenging when you have many different personalities but exploring different ways of working could prove beneficial. If you have a closed plan office where everyone is segregated in bays, why not trial creating a more open plan layout instead?
You can’t force employees to be friends, but teambuilding exercises can provide a good opportunity for people to socialise personally and get to know each other properly. Consider hosting regular events, or a monthly team buffet lunch where colleagues can speak away from the confines of their desks and computers.
There is a clear and proven correlation to exhaustion and feeling of loneliness in the workplace, in fact 50% claim in a survey they are exhausted at work. Once you identify that problems can have a knock-on effect to others it becomes even more crucial to resolve them and tackling exhaustion and employee burnout is therefore one way to reduce workplace loneliness. As an employer instilling a work-life balance ethos is fundamental to maintaining positive mental health in the workplace – why not consider an early finish on Friday’s or allowing employees to work flexibly occasionally if they need to.
During Mental Health Week it’s given us an opportunity to think about mental health and loneliness in the workplace, especially as loneliness has reached an all-time high in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Workplace loneliness can lead to depressed, unmotivated, and uncommitted employees so it is vital to identify who might be struggling with their mental health and instil practices to reduce loneliness and create a business environment that encourages good mental health, which will ultimately help improve motivation, productivity, and profitability.
For information about HR software from Pegasus which can help you effectively manage your people, please contact us today.