The leader’s role in tackling employee loneliness
The week of 9th of May is Mental Health Awareness week and this year’s focus in on loneliness. Research shows that loneliness affects millions of people in the UK and is the driver of poor health, exacerbated by the pandemic.
The State of Remote Work 2022 found that 52 percent of global employees feel less connected to their co-workers since shifting to remote work, highlighting the importance of physical connection that has been reduced since the beginning of the pandemic.
Work is human
Whilst remote work means we feel closer to others’ personal lives by seeing their homes and families during video calls, the nature of work is also more transactional, without breaks for social interaction between colleagues. But in fact, those interactions are critical to building social bonds and a culture of belonging, which is more difficult to experience outside of the office.
Neuroscience research shows that an interaction with only one person can trigger a full suite of physiological responses and neural synchronization required for optimal human communication and trust building. Social wellbeing is one of the foundational elements of thriving overall in life, and social interactions are an essential element of human nature and an engaged workplace. Research also tells us that being alone is one of the most common links associated with not experiencing positive emotions and it also correlates with a high incidence of negative emotions such as stress.
Reducing loneliness not only helps individuals, but it also helps businesses, as having friendships at work is a predictor of many important business outcomes. And it is the leaders’ role to embrace the social component of work – because people don’t leave their human nature behind when they are working, and workplace connections can bring cooperation, innovation and inclusion. Loneliness is also less likely when employees are aware of their strengths and are encouraged to share them with their colleagues, leveraging each other’s strengths.
Without the face-to-face interactions, many employees miss having a sense of shared purpose, whilst at the same time, organisations are struggling to retain and recruit talent in a highly competitive environment. But increasing face-to-face interaction is not enough to create strong interpersonal connections among employees - building high-quality connections requires a focused set of structures and practices built on the foundation of psychological safety.
Research suggests that loneliness impacts younger generations even more, as many have left university and started their first jobs remotely missing out on the critical social milestones, whilst being subject to a multi-layered crisis including a global pandemic and war in Europe. However, experts suggest that the additional driver contributing to high levels of loneliness in the younger generation of workers is social media.
Employees don’t advertise their loneliness. In fact, employees themselves may not even recognise that they’re lonely. But loneliness is a health risk that impacts employee well-being and work, as lonely workers are less satisfied with their jobs and switch jobs more frequently. As loneliness may not be easily to identify, it is important that leaders are present and checking in with employees regularly, not only through formal reviews, and continuously work on building a culture of psychological safety and belonging.
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