According to a number of studies, surveys and government statistics, we are becoming increasingly lonely as a society, with younger people and those of working age also missing out on much-needed human interaction. Zara Ross, Chief Executive of the automotive charity, Ben, discusses the effect that loneliness can have on employees and explains that businesses would benefit from being aware of the implications of social isolation in their workforce…
In an increasingly digital world, we have not only become globally available 365 days a year (which can take its toll on our wellbeing), but ironically at the same time, we are becoming increasingly lonely.
In the past, loneliness was often credited to more elderly members of society. However, at Ben we are supporting more and more people today who are a long way off retirement age, but report that they are suffering with feelings of isolation. For those of working age, in particular ‘millennials’, there’s a void in their lives that can’t be filled with smartphone technology or digital contacts. In early 2018 over 55,000 people took part in a survey by BBC Radio Four and the Wellcome Trust, and the results indicated that 16-24 year-olds experience loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group. Of all the respondents in that millennial age group, a significant and troubling 40% reported feeling lonely often or very often, compared to only 29% of people aged 65-74.
Pressures of the digital age
One of the reasons behind this is that we’re living in a time where face-to-face interaction may often be seen as unnecessary. The façade of a positive social media life can seem to be the priority and one that is all too easy to hide behind. Whilst there are many positive aspects to virtual interaction, the shallowness of potential digital friendships, selfie smiles and boosted numbers of inauthentic profile views mean that some people can be left longing for real human interaction and connection. But why should that matter to employers? Well, it could be just as crucial to the continuity of your business as your sales or profits.
Does our work culture tolerate loneliness?
Understanding the implications of employee loneliness should be on the priority list for everyone, including employers. In the fast-paced work environment we have today, there are a number of factors that can contribute to the loneliness of our people. Long hours, relocations and pressure to achieve individual targets can result in social isolation and often lead to loneliness. These challenges, coupled with an uncertain economic market, can leave people feeling completely alone. Loneliness can also be the catalyst (and certainly contribute to) to a number of other mental health issues including depression, stress and anxiety amongst others.
Employees who feel more supported and happier in their work are more likely to be loyal to the company. According to a number of business and career coaches in the US, a supportive and caring work environment is likely to have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the whole workforce. Employees who are treated well and know support is available if they are struggling will be reassured and go the extra mile for a responsive employer. Bosses can choose to ignore the issue, but an attitude of ‘ignorance is bliss’ could result in employees who are suffering from issues like loneliness taking time off sick or reducing their productivity.
A national problem
The issues associated with unwanted social isolation and loneliness are widespread across the economy but are now being taken more seriously, so much so that this problem has attracted more NHS funding. The UK Government announced a programme on tackling loneliness at the start of 2018, which included the Prime Minister naming Tracey Crouch MP as the first Minister for Loneliness. A few months later, a strategy was announced that included workplaces signing up to help identify and minimise unwanted social isolation by providing help and support to lonely employees. A number of well-known organisations have recognised the crucial role they play in addressing unwanted social isolation, with companies like Sainsbury’s, Transport for London, British Red Cross, National Grid and the UK Government Civil Service all signing up to the government project.
What employers can do
The truth is that anyone can be affected by loneliness and unwanted social isolation, and employees need to be part of an environment where structures are in place to connect people, especially if a company employs remote workers or dispersed site workers. It is vitally important that a team spirit is encouraged at work and individuals feel part of something bigger than their own jobs. We all need to work together to tackle loneliness and that’s why we’ve put together some tips on how to deal with unwanted social isolation in the workplace, helping management to find a positive solution for an employee who is showing the telltale signs.
Find out more about loneliness