Workplace loneliness: Employees at risk and how to support them

Wednesday May 4, 2022

With businesses currently focused on hybrid working and staff shortages, due to sickness and the Great Resignation, it can be easy to miss an HR issue like workplace loneliness.

You’re busy tracking attendance for your hybrid team whilst also arranging urgent cover. Besides, how can loneliness be an issue now that social distancing and lockdowns are no longer enforced?

It might be surprising to hear that pre-pandemic studies on the subject revealed that three in five employees reported feeling lonely at work. The pandemic increased feelings of isolation, however it is not the sole cause of worker loneliness, which can occur in even the most bustling of work environments.

Understanding how, when, and why, is crucial for employers, as loneliness in the workplace poses a threat to well-being, which in turn can impact productivity and employee attendance.

Organising urgent cover may seem to be the most pressing task, however addressing what can be a root cause of absence will prove to be effective in the long run.

Who is most at risk of loneliness in the workplace?

Identifying who is most at risk of feeling lonely at work is a good place to start. Then, you’ll be pleased to know, it doesn’t take much to prevent worker loneliness. In fact, it can become a natural part of your day-to-day.

There isn’t too much detective work required here, and the clue is in the title of our first category – lone workers.

Think security guards, drivers, utility managers, surveyors, agricultural workers and so on. Basically, anyone who works on their own without direct supervision.

Much like lone workers, remote workers are also less likely to have human interaction built into their working day, even more so if they work on solo projects and live alone.

Perhaps a less obvious category, but just as important, is new employees. Starting a new job in a new business, especially one that operates a hybrid model, or one that has cliques already formed, can be intimidating and trigger loneliness. Welcoming and actively integrating new workers is a way to counter this and improve employee retention.

The same can be said for those returning to work after an extended period of absence, such as mothers returning from maternity leave or an employee coming back from long-term sick leave. Changes in a team can cause disruption and lead to feelings of isolation.

Pressure and workload have a part to play too. For example, an employee struggling with a heavy workload might turn down team lunches to meet deadlines or disengage from colleagues to keep on top of an increasing task list.

Reducing a risk of loneliness in your business

Whilst there is some responsibility on a person experiencing loneliness to try to change their situation, you likely won’t want that to involve them looking for a new job. Rather, you can help to reduce the risk of loneliness in the workplace by making everyone feel welcome and included.

This can be as small as acknowledging employees with eye contact and a smile, to asking how they are, or maintaining regular 121s that provide dedicated time to discuss any issues. Use virtual 121s for those working from home.

Further to this, you might consider creating a mentor system for knowledge sharing, giving employees a chance to learn something new from their co-workers and find common ground where it may not have existed before.

A well-planned induction that tells a new employee where things are and introduces them to the wider team is a good idea, as well as recommendations on where they can grab a tea, coffee, or lunch. If you’re planning a work social gathering, make sure that everyone is invited and able to participate if they wish.

For remote and home workers? A virtual social or one in a convenient location to them can help connect this part of your team to employees that work on site; whilst local industry networking groups can be enjoyable for those a bit further out.

Help with your HR

If you’d like some advice on how to maximise inclusivity in your business, or need help with managing lone workers, don’t forget we’re here to help.

Preventing People Problems

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