In short, yes. It’s down to people professionals to encourage relationship-building and social connections within their organisation. If they don’t, research suggests it’s going to bite them, big time.
Back in 2017, a report revealed that the cost of loneliness to UK employers was estimated at a whopping £2.5billion every year, due to a decrease in productivity, greater absenteeism and a higher staff turnover.
Fast-forward 5 years into today’s remote working world and that figure is likely to be a whole lot bigger…
The loneliness loop
Not only does workplace loneliness come with significant financial costs for the business, it can result in employees becoming stuck in a ‘loneliness loop’ which has a huge impact on the following:
According to research almost a quarter of workers said that feeling lonely at work has affected their mental health, the most common ways being heightened anxiety and depression.
Employee productivity and performance take a hit when your people feel cut off from others in the workplace, with research showing that loneliness impacts creativity and concentration.
Disconnection = disengagement. When disconnected from those around them, employees feel less committed to their organisation and become less engaged with what is going on.
When people feel lonely at work, rather than trying to speak to somebody it can trigger them to emotionally withdraw themselves further in which they avoid social events, talking to peers and taking part in any group activities.
So, who’s to blame for loneliness in the workplace?
If we were writing this last year, our answer would be simple - the culprit would be Covid. Something you would totally expect given the fact that all office-workers had to work from home away from their colleagues.
Whereas today, we can no longer blame it on the pandemic. While there’s no one in particular to point the finger at, there are certain things that contribute to how lonely employees feel.
These include difficult team dynamics, demanding workloads, the working environment; such as individual offices and working from home, an unhealthy work-life balance, and more obviously, today’s flexible hybrid and remote working policies that can result in teams rarely being together.
3 ways HR can help to combat employee loneliness in their organisation
We’ll be honest, tackling loneliness in the workplace isn’t easy. This is mostly down to the fact that your people probably won’t say if they feel isolated, they may not even recognise themselves that they’re lonely, and given that you don’t have to literally be alone to feel lonely, it’s hard to spot any signs.
With that said, fortunately there are still things that HR leaders can do to help, but they’ve got be pretty proactive about it:
Break the stigma
Just like mental health, many employees believe that feeling lonely at work carries a stigma and that they’ll be considered ‘less than’ if they speak up about it. It’s down to leaders to start the conversation and normalise loneliness.
To help, check out the resources via Mental Health Foundation’s #IveBeenThere campaign in support of Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15th May). Also the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sports’ Campaign to End Loneliness.
Create opportunities to connect
According to our client feedback, what employees need right now is human connection and what better way to connect with colleagues than some team building fun?! As well as building the spirit of teamwork and collaboration, team building activities enable employees to interact, connect and build lasting bonds.
To help organisations in the Tees Valley to bring their people together, we’ve teamed up with some of the region’s best activity providers who are offering exclusive corporate discounts throughout the month of May (2022). From rock climbing and escape rooms to cocktail masterclasses and murder mystery experiences - access our full guide to team building in the Tees Valley here.
Hone in on company culture
Think about your current company culture - does it include active encouragement of teamwork? Are employees recognised and rewarded for their hard work and contribution? Do you use open and honest communication? Having a healthy workplace culture can reduce the risks of loneliness and make employees feel valued, remain focused and keep engaged.
All in all, if HR and business leaders fail to adopt an approach that encourages relationship-building at work then employee isolation and disconnection will continue to rise.
It’s time to put the structures and rewards in place to facilitate a more connected workforce and avoid being left behind.
At Key Wellbeing, we can help your staff to feel seen, heard and supported. Get in touch to discuss the ways that we can help.