Mental Health Awareness Week - The Impact of Workplace Loneliness

It is easy to forget we are one of 7 billion people on the planet, we forget we are all connected and share a common humanity.
Source: Headspace

This year Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 9-15 May and the campaign focus is around loneliness. It feels a very apt topic as a result of experiences during the pandemic over the last two years. During the pandemic we are seeing more people in the UK living with loneliness, with people more than three times more likely to experience loneliness than pre-pandemic levels. In May the aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the impact loneliness has on our mental and physical wellbeing, and to consider the steps that can be taken to support those who maybe affected.


What do we mean by loneliness?


Loneliness is something which we all feel at times, if felt over a long period of time it can have significant effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. There is not one cause that triggers loneliness but life events such as: divorce, being made redundant, experiencing bereavement, or moving to a new area; can certainly be a catalyst.


The Mental Health Foundation defines loneliness as:


Loneliness is not about the number of friends we have, the time we spend on our own or something that happens when we reach a certain age. Loneliness is the feeling we experience when there is a mismatch between the social connections we have and those that we need or want. That means it can be different for all of us."


Human beings evolved living and working together in tribal communities and our survival was at risk if we became disconnected from those tribes. Today, whilst our tribes may look a little different in the modern world, the tribal instinct within us is still strong, Within all of us exists a basic human need to belong, whether that be at home, in the workplace or in society. Workplace loneliness is on the rise in response to more organisations offering a hybrid way of working and teams continuing to work remotely.


There have been a number of studies that demonstrate, if teams feel connected and valued in the workplace, they are more likely to achieve more and perform better. It is pretty logical really, by ensuring that individuals within our teams have psychological safety at work; have a sense of belonging or purpose and feel able to bring their whole self to work, it can have positive impact on performance.


Loneliness in the workplace

Whilst some may experience loneliness at home, workplace loneliness is growing. This can refer to individuals feeling disengaged, they may not feel trusted (if they are micromanaged) and disconnected from colleagues. There are many studies which are starting to show that the more employees become disengaged with their team and the organisation they work for their, performance starts to decline.


What is the impact of workplace loneliness?

Naturally, if you are experiencing workplace loneliness is likely that this is affecting all areas of your life. The impact specifically in the workplace may include:


1. The Team - If someone in your team is struggling with workplace loneliness they may stop attending social events, stop contributing in meetings or generally be withdrawn. This sense of unease will affect the relationship amongst the whole team.

2. Reduced employee engagement. If you have members of the team with poor mental wellbeing, they are not going to be performing at their best, as they won’t be as engaged or have the energy to achieve the team goals and objectives.

3. Decreased Turnover. If an employee is less engaged, it is likely they will look for employment elsewhere, so not only are they not achieving their objectives but will also potentially result in having to recruit a replacement.

4. Declining job performance. This will impact on the whole team around them.


Ways to combat workplace loneliness:

Often when we feel isolated it is a challenge to take the first step to move forward. When we feel flat, we may not be so inclined to socialize, or maybe we shy away from speaking and send an email instead but it is important that we continue with personal interactions to build meaningful relationships, trust and connection.


There are some general ways to help overcome loneliness, which whilst not workplace specific can also be helpful. These would include:


  • Connecting with friends or family

  • Seeing people in person

  • Recognising we are not alone and we all share a common humanity in what we are experiencing

  • Hugging (if that feels comfortable to do so and the other person agrees!)

  • Connecting with nature and the sense we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves

  • Caring for something (pet, plant, etc)

  • Getting a massage

  • Joining a club to learn a new skill or volunteering to meet new people

  • Meditation to connect more deeply with self and others

All of the above will help to boost the production of the feel good hormone, Oxytocin, which is produced in the body when we feel a connection, to ourselves or to those around us.


Specifically, in the workplace, there steps we can take which include:


1. Assign a Mentor. To help individuals to settle and connect with those around them, especially important for a new starter. It may be overwhelming to join an organization and not know anyone, especially in an ever-increasing digital space.

2. Encourage the team to express how they are feeling. Provide a safe space for teams to talk in confidence and build trust, demonstrating that the organisation will support them.

3. Effective internal communications. Ensuring that all team members are included and are aware of the business developments, going on around them.

4. Team building activities. Taking time out, away from the desk can encourage your team to communicate effectively, engage and support each other.

5. Include the team in decision making. Whilst this might not be appropriate for every decision, ensuring the team have an influence or are part of any decisions made which influence their role, will help them to feel part of the process.

6. Prioritise learning and training. The sense of loneliness could stem from a sense of not being able to effectively contribute in team meetings – by offering training to bridge any gaps, could help to build the individual’s confidence.


We are just putting the final touches to a new webinar, focusing on the theme of loneliness. In the webinar we talk about how loneliness can affect us all, what steps we can take to combat loneliness, how to connect more deeply to ourselves and to the world around us.


If you are interested to discover more, please get in touch to discuss your individual requirements.


Be mindful,


Tricia



Sources:

· https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/why-loneliness-theme-mental-health-awareness-week-2022

· https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/about-loneliness/

· https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-neuroscience-of-trust

· https://blog.vantagecircle.com/workplace-loneliness/

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/loneliness-at-work.htm