This year’s Loneliness Awareness Week will take place between 14 and 18 June 2021. Although it is widely known that loneliness can have a significant impact on a person’s wellbeing and health, the recent study from the UK government provides some further insight on the effects that loneliness can have on productivity and performance in the workplace.
Putting aside the psychological and medical impact of loneliness, the UK government estimates that loneliness costs the UK economy approximately £2.5 billion (£9,900 per person) every year.
To tackle the issue, the government has recently published its guidance “Employers and loneliness“. The guidance is a result of the government’s consultation with businesses and employers who shared their knowledge and experience about the impact of loneliness on employees in the workplace.
The guidance highlights ways in which loneliness can be recognised and addressed by employers. It identifies five key themes and provides recommendations for tackling the issue. They are as follows:
- Culture and infrastructure: Employers can play a significant role in creating “a culture and infrastructure” which supports employees and promotes meaningful connections between individuals. Organisational culture and values are very important. Employers should also work proactively to identify what really matters to employees and support specific roles and responsibilities. Employers can also consider appointing a dedicated employee who is trained on loneliness and wellbeing issues.
- Management:Managers should be suitably trained to provide support to employees who struggle with loneliness.As the main point of contact for the employee, they should be prepared to talk to employees, show empathy and be familiar with the resources available within the organisation.
- People and networks:Many organisations use staff networks to come together and share their interests or concerns (for example, parent groups, book clubs or sporting activities). Professional networks can be a great source of creativity, innovation, problem-solving and employee wellbeing.
- Work and workplace design: There are various ways in which people can maintain and improve their connections. These include design and layouts that include communal spaces as well as spaces for one-to-one conversations, sharing activities (such as workshops or social events), arranging team meetings, or using a range of communication options (such as telephone calls, video conferencing or chats).
- Action in the wider community:It is very important to promote a healthy work-life balance. The guidance provides various examples of community projects and volunteering activities which can give ideas to employees who are looking to interact with their local communities.
The way we live and work is changing. Employers are moving towards hybrid models that allow for flexible working in the office and from home. The guidance acknowledges this and provides useful directions on building relationships and maintaining effective channels of personal and virtual communication. We highly recommend that readers take time to consider the ideas and suggestions set out in the guidance.