Loneliness has been described as a looming public health concern in the UK. A report by the British Red Cross and Co-op revealed over 9 million people, almost a fifth of the population, have expressed feelings of loneliness.
It’s perhaps no surprise that loneliness is not just exclusive to peoples personal lives and can also creep into their work life. A 2014 survey by Relate revealed that 42 per cent of workers do not have a single friend in their workplace. With this sobering news in mind, how can employers tackle loneliness in their workplace?
The first thing employers should consider are aspects of an employee’s working day that could be causing the loneliness. There may be numerous reasons why employees are not being provided opportunities in which to engage with their colleagues, such as their working hours or seating arrangements. As flexible working continues to grow in popularity employees may work different shifts to their immediate colleagues or conduct their role from home. Job roles could also be a factor. For example, employees who work in field sales may spend significant periods traveling by themselves to meet clients and therefore not have as much time in which to talk to other members of staff.
It is therefore highly advisable that support systems are put in place that can assist employees in these situations. Managers should be fully trained in listening and responding to any issues that employees feel are affecting their abilities at work and maintain an open door policy. It may be that certain aspects of their role could be altered in order to encourage more colleague interaction, such as the consideration of changed office hours or moving the desk of the employee. To offer further support to employees who feel they are struggling, employers could consider using an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which are usually overseen by third-party providers and offer 24-hour free counselling and advice to employees.
Generally, employers should encourage strong networking in the workplace through the organisation of social activities. This can enable employees to interact in different surroundings, talk to colleagues they may otherwise not interact with and therefore build stronger working relationships. People will have different interests so it is a good idea to involve all members of the team in deciding what to do, which can be done through a survey or meeting. It may also be advisable to discourage employees from eating at their desks during lunchtimes, providing a space in which they can interact socially with colleagues during their breaks. Care should also be taken in the positioning of desks to ensure that no employee is isolated through a seating plan. Recent studies have demonstrated that candidates are more likely to pursue a role in a company if the layouts promise a less formal and open plan workspace, such as communal tables and low-walled workstations.
By taking steps that can help prevent employees from feeling lonely, employers can work to promote a positive atmosphere, assisting in retaining key staff and attracting talented individuals to their company.