Of the many challenges people have encountered during 2020, loneliness at work is not often mentioned. Unfortunately, it’s a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s affecting employees whether they’re working from home or socially distanced in the office.
A recent Time Magazine article points out that “chronic loneliness has clear links to an array of health problems, including dementia, depression, anxiety, self-harm, heart conditions and substance abuse.”
With the right tools, organizations can help prevent these symptoms while directly improving the well-being and engagement of their employees.
Why you should care about loneliness at work
You might be asking, “Why should an employer be responsible for employee loneliness and isolation? Isn’t that a personal issue?”
Personal challenges require personal resilience, but employers should help create the conditions necessary for that resilience in the workplace. Otherwise, personal stressors can encroach upon employee well-being and affect organizational effectiveness. Research reveals that 47% of employees say problems in their personal lives affect their performance at work.
And loneliness at work can lead to employee disengagement, a costly and significant threat to an organization’s success.
By focusing on communication and community, employers can help all of their employees — remote, deskless or in-office — feel connected despite current social limitations.
Here are three ways to improve workplace loneliness and reduce the likelihood of employee disengagement:
3 ways to help employees who are lonely at work
1. Promote exchange and connection
Encourage business leaders to host a weekly “Ask Me Anything” session, giving employees a chance to exchange ideas and develop relationships with upper management. As the name implies, anything is fair game. The open-ended structure leaves room for laughter, reflection and relationship-building. It’s often what happens outside of traditional work calls, emails and business correspondence that brings social rejuvenation.
Of course, none of this can happen without proactive effort to prevent workplace loneliness. If you’re in a position of leadership or influence, consider setting aside time to brainstorm new ways for your organization to create memorable, sociable opportunities geared toward including remote — and potentially isolated — employees.
2. Leverage technology to connect
Use a well-being solution to kickstart the type of communication, care and activities that bring workplaces and employees together during challenging times. With targeted activities and customizable features, well-being solutions provide the resources and measurement tools to keep all employees — isolated or not — connected and cared for.
Well-being solutions also provide a mobile-first social component that allows employees to post work wins, kudos, polls, pictures and more.
Recent Limeade research found that when information flows freely throughout an organization, employees are three times more likely to feel included. When employees feel they have received adequate information, they are nearly twice as likely to feel engaged in their work.
3. Create a sense of community
It’s no secret that being a part of a like-minded community brings strength and social connection. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Community is critical for us to thrive, especially for someone…who is already experiencing the common symptoms of loneliness and isolation.” What can you do to maximize this sense of community within your workforce?
Get creative with staying connected to coworkers while working from home. Consider organizing a virtual happy hour, a socially distanced team meetup or one-on-one video calls for managers to check in with direct reports. While physical distancing remains essential, social closeness is still very much attainable, and it leads to employees feeling cared for and included. When employees feel cared for by their organization, they are not only less likely to feel burned out, but they also experience higher well-being.
By utilizing purpose-built tools, and by focusing on communication and community, organizations will strengthen feelings of togetherness and connection, both of which will help employees who may feel lonely at work.