The annual Mental Health Awareness Week takes place in the UK from 9-15 May. This year’s theme is loneliness. Ryan Exley, OSH Content Developer at IOSH, looks at how to prevent loneliness in the workplace
Loneliness plays a significant part in mental wellbeing. Feelings of isolation, anxiety and low self-esteem all are increased with loneliness. Workplace loneliness can also have major implications for organisations such as higher staff turnover, lack of commitment and lower performance of workers, to name just a few.
While loneliness at work is not a new issue, it is now a more prominent one, so here’s some top tips for tackling workplace loneliness.
Culture and infrastructure
Worker perception surveys are one way of identifying what really matters to workers. Organisations can use this information to align it with corporate values and embed loneliness into other wellbeing and welfare activities.
Management and training
Organisations can’t identify and support loneliness without the assistance of line management and other workers. Training managers is crucial as the right training will enable them to identify signs of loneliness within their team or workers in the organisations in general and provide the necessary support.
Good quality manager-worker relationships
Workers feeling their manager is available for support, whether that be informal chats or a more formal one-to-one basis, will give workers the opportunity to allay how they are feeling and feel comfortable in doing so. Workers may also feel happier and more likely to talk about issues if managers have experience and understanding of their role and potential issues they face.
Ensuring workers are regularly communicated with can help them to feel connected, whether that be with other workers, line management or even the organisation as a whole. Having that feeling of connection can help to reduce feelings of loneliness within workers. Organisations which ensure that policies, procedures, information and guidance are accessible and actively communicated with may also support workers with loneliness. Ensuring all levels of the organisation are involved in programmes of improvement may also help workers to feel included and reduce loneliness.
Encourage collaboration and for workers to get involved, not just with peers but in organisational issues and initiatives. By encouraging collaboration and rewarding collaboration, organisations are going to reduce feelings of loneliness as workers are going to feel more involved, supported and feel a sense of belonging within an organisation. It will also enable strong peer groups and relationship support, as well as helping to embed a positive culture.
Some workers can feel isolated or lonely due to the amount of pressure placed on them, whether that be because a team is significantly reduced to the point they are now a lone worker, or just because they feel overworked and are afraid to speak up. Through open dialogue and line management awareness, expectations on workers who may feel isolated or lonely can be reduced and may help to ease the way they are feeling as they may feel considered and cared for by an organisation.
Having professional support on hand to support workers who may be feeling lonely or isolated or any other kind of negative emotion is incredibly valuable as workers may prefer to discuss issues with somebody external. Organisations should always endeavour to provide such support.
Are you aware IOSH has funded research into lone workers? Find out more by looking at our Out of sight, out of mind research.