Tackling Loneliness in your Workforce

By Freddie Eyre
01 Sep 2023

Loneliness within your workplace can have a significant impact on workplace wellbeing, your employees, and the wider business. Loneliness affects everyone differently, so it can be difficult to spot an employee experiencing loneliness in your workplace.

Our Croner experts have put together a guide to tackling loneliness in your workplace. If you feel like you need immediate support in tackling workplace loneliness, contact us on 0800 470 2588.

A man experienceing workplace loneliness and stuggling to make social connections.

What causes workplace loneliness?

Loneliness is an emotion that someone feels when they believe they are alone, or feel shunned by their peers.

This can affect people at any moment and isn't limited to just certain times of the day. A person doesn't have to be alone to feel lonely.

Why are people lonely at work?

There's no end to the reasons someone could feel lonely at work, but some of the most common reasons your staff might feel lonely are:

  • Life changes: This could be if your employees have recently started their role, or if they are coming back from a period of absence.
  • Inclusion issues: This type refers to if someone is left out of activities because of outside factors, such as if your workplace regularly goes out for drinks but some employees are excluded due to religious or childcare reasons.
  • Job roles: The nature of some job roles could mean that one of your employees doesn't regularly work with others or if they are on short-term contracts.

How your employees work can also cause employee loneliness. For example, if you have employees working remotely. For those operating hybrid working, the number of days an employee is remote could lead to increased loneliness.

Working from home has the potential to alter how your employees communicate with each other, and cause some employees to become isolated and lonely in the absence of face-to-face communication.

How to recognise loneliness?

As we've mentioned, experiencing loneliness isn't the same for everyone. This means that there isn't a set of guidelines on what being lonely looks like.

As an employer, you and your managers should take time to get to know your employees. This could be through regular appraisals, team bonding, good communication or one-to-one meetings. Knowing your team will help you to identify any changes in their behaviour and make it easier to recognise loneliness.

As good practice you should look at your employee's body language, note whether they avoid social interaction or if their performance drops.

Equally, your lonely employees might start reaching out to their co-workers and you more. This could inadvertently have an adverse impact on their performance and could make them appear disruptive. It's important to remember that not all loneliness is characterised by introversion.

Should employers be tackling loneliness in the workplace?

The short answer is yes, you should address loneliness in your workplace. Employers have a duty of care towards employees, and this includes their physical and mental wellbeing.

Loneliness can cost employers thousands of pounds each year. This could be because of an increase in staff turnover, higher absenteeism rates and low productivity for affected staff turnover.

If you're employees are starting to feel lonely they can become disengaged with their work and start to have a lower productivity level.

Not only this, it can cause employees to take more time off for ill health and sickness.

Addressing loneliness in the workplace head-on can help businesses increase their profits, job satisfaction, productivity and overall, increased employee engagement and employee wellbeing.

a lady who is trying to tackle loneliness while remote working.

How can employers support employees?

There are numerous different ways to create opportunities so that you can support your employees and they don't have to cost your business anything.

Talk to your team

By speaking to your employees you will be able to find out how they are actually feeling. There are different approaches you can take to this, for example, you could call a large group meeting and speak to the team, or you could speak to them on a one-to-one basis.

Depending on your employees, some may be more likely to speak to you privately instead of in front of a group.

You can utilise the information that you've gathered from exit interviews, this can help you find out if loneliness has been a key factor in their decision to leave the business.

Another way you can gather information on your employee's feelings is through an anonymous survey.

This will help you get a consensus across the business of how your employees are feeling.

You can use this information to put measures in place to prevent loneliness and combat issues. Remember that not all employer and employee interactions need to be solely about work or performance.

Give employees someone to talk to

If your employees are experiencing loneliness in the workplace, you may be unsure of what to do next to help them, or they might not be comfortable with telling you about their feelings.

In these instances, you can offer your employees further support through an employee assistance programme (EAP). This will help you support employees' social wellbeing and be a tool to help them manage their mental health.

Utilising an EAP allows your employees to talk to experts anonymously, and is designed to improve your employee wellbeing and productivity of employees.

How can line managers support employees?

Your line managers will be instrumental in helping their team's health, and employee wellbeing. As they will work closely with their team, they will be able to spot the signs of loneliness better, and if they are acting out of character.

As an employer, you can help better equip your line managers and senior managers to tackle workplace loneliness.

Your line managers and senior managers can help support your employees in supporting social connections and combating loneliness by doing the following.

Watching for signs

There is a good chance that your employees aren't going to want to talk to their managers about issues they are struggling with, particularly if they are struggling with their mental health.

But they can watch for signs and offer employees the right support should they need it.

Some of the signs they should watch out for are:

  • Spending more time than usual on their own.
  • A lack of close friends at work.
  • Decreased engagement in social activities.
  • They've recently gone or are in the process of going through significant life events.

It's important to note that these signs might not only mean that your employee is feeling lonely, but they should be monitored.

Build strong relationships with employees

Building a strong relationship with your team can do wonders if your employee is struggling with loneliness or their mental health.

If your employees have a strong relationship with their managers or line manager it can encourage them to come forward and talk to them about issues they are struggling with.

Encourage employees to talk about workplace loneliness, this will help tackle loneliness and improve the work life balance.

How to address loneliness

There's no single fix for employers tackling loneliness, but there are ways that you can help support your employees. We've gathered a few of them together to help you.

Assess the situation

If you've recognised that some of your employees are going through loneliness and are struggling with their mental health. You can ask your employees to complete a loneliness scale test.

Some of the questions are:

  • How often do you feel that you lack companionship?
  • How often do you feel left out?
  • How often do you feel isolated from others?

These three questions have the responses of Hardly ever, never, some of the time, and often.

Another question you can ask is:

  • How often do you feel lonely?

This one has one of the following answers: often/ always, some of the time, occasionally, hardly ever and never.

This will help you to understand how your employees are feeling. You will have a better understanding of what your employee is going through.

You should also remember to tell your employee that the answers to the test will remain confidential and that the test is voluntary. If you don't do this you can run the risk of alienating your employees.

Build a team that has a shared direction

Creating a shared direction for your team will help give your team meaning and something to work towards. This will also help them to build relationships within the team.

Hopefully, this will help you to spot any negative behaviours such as bullying and harassment.

Addressing loneliness and Tackling loneliness by supporting employees with social connections playing tug of war.

Take an interest in people's lives

Having a chat with your employees about their personal life can go a long way in boosting their morale, and help to build trust and promote empathy, between you and your employees.

This can show your employees that you care about them when they aren't at work and give them a little bit more confidence to open up about issues and struggles they are going through.

It's important to remember that there is more to your employee's day-to-day lives and life than just work.

Adapt the way you work

The way your business operates might be causing your employees to experience loneliness. This could be down to a few reasons for example, if you are fully remote working and don't have regular communication with your employees.

Adapting the way you work isn't limited to just communication, it could also be changing the layout of your office to make it more welcoming to the team, this can help you to avoid isolating your employees.

If this is the case you can potentially test different layouts and see how it changes the atmosphere in the office.

Likewise, you could put together activities that bring the team together (remote workers and the onsite team) and facilitate communication.

Remember the little things

Small gestures can make a big difference. This could be anything from a simple 'Morning' at the start of the day to an offering to make someone a cup of tea or coffee. These can help boost an individual's mood.

As a manager or employer, you should remember to have one-to-ones with your employees, these will help provide them with a space where they can talk freely and seek help if they need it.

loneliness and home workers can often go hand in hand, a person sat on a step looking sad, thinking of ways to tackle loneliness.

Tackle exhaustion

If your employees are tired or exhausted, it may make them experience loneliness while at work. If you notice your employees being more tired than usual, you should ensure they aren't working over their hours and ensure they are taking breaks.

This will allow your employees to feel more refreshed and motivated.

Remember virtual colleagues

Any of your employees who are remote working can experience workplace loneliness, as more often than not they'll be working by themselves throughout the day.

You can help combat this type of loneliness at work, by ensuring that you're constantly reaching out to your team and asking them how they are.

This will help them to connect with their other team members and be part of the team. You could, for instance, take a few minutes at the end of a meeting or have a stand-up meeting in the week to check in with everyone.

Speak to an expert

If you are struggling to tackle loneliness in your workplace and don't know where to start, speak to our experts

Croner has a team of award-winning, HR professionals and consultants who are specialists in their field.

We have been providing assistance to businesses for 80 years. Our advice line is available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Why not speak to a Croner expert on 0800 141 3908.

About the Author

a photo of Freddie Eyre

Freddie is our Health and Safety Team Manager. Having worked in the industry for over six years, Freddie advises our clients in all things health and safety, and helps to ensure that they are compliant with the latest legislation.

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