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Vedder Thinking | Articles How to help employees dealing with loneliness


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As published in People Management on June 15, 2021 

Boris Johnson confirmed yesterday (Monday 14 June) that most of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England will not be lifted until 19 July. Despite the working from home guidance being delayed, many employers are still looking at what the future of work may look like. For now, the adoption of hybrid working appears to be the preferred approach for those working in the professional services sector.

Lockdown has precipitated a huge shift in our understanding of how and where employees can work, and hybrid working has gained momentum as a way to benefit from a more autonomous and agile workforce.

However, remote working has not been a panacea. While enhanced autonomy has benefits for both employers and employees, the loss of in-person collaboration and networking opportunities risks remote workers being left isolated, feeling disconnected from friends and colleagues.

In fact, as per a YouGov survey, over one third of the population report feeling more lonely since the lockdown measures were introduced. In addition, a recent study conducted by the University of Stirling and workplace consultancy Positive Performance reported up to 65 per cent of home workers feeling more socially isolated.

Loneliness can become a chronic source of stress and lead to the development or worsening of mental illness. Just as with other sources of stress, loneliness precipitates an increased risk of sickness and performance issues arising, employee relations deteriorating and possible legal claims, costing UK employers £2.5bn in total each year.

As a society, it is clear that we need to develop better solutions to address this issue. The UK government has recently released guidance for employers, which it hopes will act as the starting point of a wider conversation about what organisations can do to address loneliness. The guidance feeds back from a recently conducted employer consultation and offers best practice examples to help employers tackle loneliness in the workplace.

This includes the following:

  • Recommending that employers forge an inclusive and open organisational culture. This can help instil confidence that sensitive conversations around loneliness will be treated with empathy.
  • Appointing an employee champion, who has been specifically trained on loneliness and wellbeing can be an additional support for staff to engage with confidentially, while awareness campaigns (such as for Loneliness Awareness Week) and networks can be effective at showing the workforce that the organisation takes loneliness seriously and help to strip away stigma of opening up about individual experiences.
  • Employers are urged to ensure that line managers are provided with training on loneliness so that they are equipped to spot signs and symptoms that a colleague is struggling and are prepared to talk about it in an empathetic and non-judgmental manner. Knowing what to do in this situation and how and where to signpost an individual, often at an early stage, can make a big difference, both personally and professionally.
  • Businesses are also urged to identify what actually matters to their employees and in what context they may need extra support throughout the employment life cycle. In this way, employers can work to embed wellbeing into their corporate values and take positive steps to reduce the risk of loneliness.

As we transition out of full remote working, creating opportunities for people to safely come together and interact in person will be more important than ever. And employers that engage with this issue at an early stage and encourage colleagues to meet and connect on a social level, communicate openly, develop shared experiences, and build relationships, will reap the rewards, both in terms of a healthy and positive workforce and a vibrant and enthusiastic business culture.


Daniel Stander