Loneliness is the feeling that emerges when our social needs are not met by the quantity and quality of our current social relationships. We rely on safe, secure and social surroundings to survive in this world. Loneliness leads to heightened feelings of stress and vulnerability — which can take a toll on our physical and mental wellbeing.
According to the Black Dog Institute, loneliness is very common, affecting around 1 in 3 adults. The COVID-19 restrictions have increased loneliness by driving people into their homes, separating them from friends and loved ones. Similarly, employees may struggle with the lack of contact with colleagues. The changes to the working environment can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of individuals.
There are four ways employers can support their employees to help alleviate feelings of loneliness.
1. Have open communication on what’s going on
It’s important to maintain frequent and open communication with employees about what’s going on with the business — even if there is no news or update. This is crucial in reducing anxieties and keeps your employees involved and engaged.
If you have employees on leave, don’t forget to include them in all communications where possible to ease any feelings of uncertainty in their jobs, isolation and loneliness.
2. Organise regular social events
When you’re in an office, there is usually a lot of social activity such as having lunch with colleagues, Friday drinks, birthdays and work anniversary celebrations. Keeping these activities going is important for the culture, wellbeing and engagement of employees — whether working from an office or at home.
Depending on the level of COVID restrictions, coordinating in-person events can be tricky. So it could be the case where you organise smaller groups or host social activities online.
Note: There are a few things to keep in mind when organising social events. For instance, there may be circumstances that might make it difficult for employees to join social events including having a disability, carer responsibilities or English being their second language. Also, keep in mind your shift workers, casuals and contractors (who are sometimes inadvertently forgotten). It may be challenging to accommodate everyone’s needs, but the best thing to do is simply ask your employees what you can do to make it easier for people to join.
3. Focus on learning and development
The feeling of being left behind can cause loneliness. Employees may feel the pandemic has put their career development in a bit of a limbo. It’s therefore important to remind your people of the value they bring to your business and that you’re there to support them.
One way to reassure your employees is to ask them to think about their careers including any new skills they want to develop. Ask your employees:
- What do you want to achieve in your career — in the short term and long term?
- What support and resources do you need to get you there?
- What skills would you like to develop?
4. Mentally healthy employees are happy and productive
Employers should support employees by promoting positive wellbeing across the business. You could do this by offering online fitness classes (such as virtual yoga) or mindfulness sessions.
If you haven’t already, provide your employees with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). It gives your employees peace of mind knowing they can access confidential support and counselling services whenever they need it. Offering this program is an effective way to help reduce stress, anxiety, and loneliness.
Over to you
It’s a sensitive and challenging time for many, including your employees. Focusing on the steps above will help employees feel motivated, productive, and engaged within your business.