Mental Health Awareness Week - Loneliness

Mental Health Awareness Week will run from the 9th to the 15th of May. The Mental Health Foundation has announced 'Loneliness' as the theme for 2022.

During the pandemic, millions of people have experienced mental health problems or saw a loved one or colleague struggle. Loneliness, in particular, has been a critical driver of poor mental health. The Mental Health Foundation monitored loneliness levels in the UK during the pandemic and found that individual experiences of loneliness have been much higher. This was as a result of people's sense of isolation and the reduced ability to connect with others during lockdown.

What is the impact of loneliness?

Loneliness affects individual overall wellbeing and has been shown to negatively impact engagement and productivity at work, with workers experiencing loneliness more likely to think about quitting their jobs than those who feel a sense of belonging.

Addressing Loneliness

The vast majority of employers want to ensure their employees are healthy and happy. To support this, employers need to understand that workplace wellbeing starts with them; if you practice what you preach, your employees will follow you. You may have wellbeing strategies in place, but if you do not take advantage of the resources available, neither will your team. So make sure you look after your wellbeing; use the resources available, and be open with your team when you are struggling or need their help.

Vulnerability can be a strength

Firstly, normalise talking about mental health and loneliness. This can be tricky as no one wants to admit they are lonely. Step one is assessing how people in your company support conversations about loneliness and are willing to provide helpful feedback. If your company shies away from sensitive conversations and views expressing vulnerability as undermining professionalism, there is a risk that your employees will not come forward if they are experiencing loneliness.

Talk more

A widespread problem in the workplace is that we do not talk enough about mental health and loneliness. As a result, managers are often unaware until an issue is past the breaking point.

Creating interactions in work that go beyond pleasantries can help to increase the quality of interactions between teams and colleagues. For example, I previously worked with a senior manager who would greet each team member every morning when he came into the office. He would spend a few minutes with each person and ask how they were. As a result, his team's engagement was significantly higher than other teams.

This kind of interaction within the workplace also encourages a culture of openness and bringing your authentic self to work. Once colleagues talk more, they may discover they have a shared hobby or interest and form workplace affinity groups. Talking more generally can lead to mental health conversations and encourage employees to seek help sooner.

Change ways of working

Loneliness at work can cause burnout, emotional fatigue and withdrawal. Loneliness is a distressing emotion that occurs when a person perceives that they are alone or being shunned and isolated from others, working remotely or being in a stand-alone team can be a pivotal contributor to workplace loneliness.

Your company's working practices may be making it harder for your employees to build meaningful relationships. For example, how often do your employees meet in person? How do you address the benefits of shared learning and mentoring if your employees work most of the time remotely?

To combat this research and consider different ways of working. For example, if you build a team that has a shared direction. This will give the team purpose. This gives meaning to employees' efforts, and a shared purpose builds camaraderie. Purpose and direction also counter the energy-depleting effects of loneliness by getting teams engaged on the broader impact of their work. If teams work remotely, consider other ways of maintaining regular contact, such as phone calls and video conferencing.

Team Building Activities

Colleagues do not have to be friends, but forming workplace bonds will support inclusiveness in the workplace. If you create opportunities for collaboration by organising team building activities and encouraging social events, your employees can make meaningful connections with others in your company that they may not work with daily.

The benefit of tackling loneliness

The importance of employee wellbeing has been a hot topic since the beginning of the pandemic, and loneliness has risen in prominence over the past few years. Employers who do not treat issues around loneliness with the utmost importance will risk losing key employees due to mental and physical ill-health and increased health care costs. The financial implications alone can be costly for employers as the estimated cost of loneliness to UK employers is £2.5 billion every year. By addressing loneliness, a company can help to ensure that they have a more productive and resilient workforce.

Should you have any queries or require support, please contact a member of our team who will be able to offer advice and guidance on wellbeing processes and procedures; IHRS is here to help. To get in touch, email HRhelp@ihrsolutions.co.uk, call 01604 709509 or visit our website.  

About the author

Laura is a HR professional with 20 years’ experience with Financial Services, the majority of which has been within insurance. In her role with UKGI Group, Laura provides objective support to firms on employment law and HR issues. She uses her interpersonal skills and knowledge to work with firms to help them develop strong and resilient HR strategies and establish healthy organisational cultures. Laura’s clients receive personalised support with a real can-do approach.

Laura is an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). She holds a Diploma Professional Development Scheme.

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