Loneliness in the workplace is becoming an epidemic. So, how do we fix it?
Work-life balance and company culture are becoming increasingly important topics for both employers and employees.
Burnout from work is always a danger, but stress and overwork aren’t the only potential career hazards to our mental health.
According to former American surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy, loneliness is an epidemic that is severely affecting our health.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Murthy said up to 40pc of adults report feeling lonely, which can cause a variety of problems, such as depression and anxiety. From a working perspective, loneliness can also decrease productivity and creativity.
Why loneliness matters
It seems that the more connected we have become with devices, apps and the internet, the lonelier we have become in society. Murthy said: “For our health and our work, it is imperative that we address the loneliness epidemic quickly.”
Of course, addressing the happiness of employees and ensuring they don’t get anxious or stressed should be at the top of employers’ agendas, but sometimes it needs to be put in their language to recognise the impact.
Think of a lack of productivity, a reduction in employee retention, sick leave and a lack of motivation at work. All of that spells bad news for employers’ bottom lines. Suddenly, loneliness becomes a business issue.
With an increase in freelancing and remote working, the loneliness epidemic is set to continue unless something is done about it.
Facilities management software company iOffice is designed for the digital workplace. Co-founder of iOffice, Elizabeth Dukes, said loneliness can affect career growth, even if we sit in an office surrounded by colleagues. “Although we spend a lot, if not most of, our time with our co-workers, creating the types of bonds that combat loneliness has proven to be difficult,” she said.
“If organisations want to have healthy, happy and productive employees, they need to ensure that they’re creating opportunities for their employees to forge lasting bonds with each other.”
While Dukes agrees that the growing remote workforce is having a major impact, she doesn’t think it’s the only driver of loneliness at work.
“I think it is a reflection of technology as a whole. The ability to communicate via so many other avenues beyond face-to-face communication has had a dramatic impact,” she said. “People need people, and trust is built when you can look someone in the eye. This goes back to creating spaces where employees feel like they can come together to work.”
Dukes said organisations need to create these spaces in which employees can be encouraged to talk face to face. “By designing a workplace around company culture – not the other way around – businesses will signal to employees that their needs come first, which we all know is the first step to creating employee engagement.
“This isn’t a quick-fix solution and takes careful consideration and planning but, by implementing time and spaces where employees can connect into the structure of the workplace, employees will feel a sense of deeper connections that would have otherwise have been missing,” she said.
As Dukes said, remote working isn’t the only trend responsible for an increase in loneliness in the workplace.
However, it is natural that loneliness can come more easily to those who work outside of the office, away from their colleagues. So, while organisations are creating spaces within the office walls, how can employees who aren’t in the office take control of their own isolation?
Dukes said that these remote workers need to take time to go into their office, or work from a co-working space, to feel more connected.
“Although the rise of technology like Slack makes it seem like we’re getting to know our co-workers, taking the time to really get to know them will ensure that, later down the line, remote workers feel connected to the larger company because, after all, a company is nothing without the people who run it.”