While the removal of Covid-19 restrictions has enabled friends and families to once again mix freely, the rise in hybrid and flexible working arrangements means that some individuals may feel less connected to colleagues than prior to the pandemic, resulting in increased levels of loneliness at work. In fact, a fifth (20%) of respondents to research by charity Mental Health UK said they feel lonely during a typical working day.
The research, which was published during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9 – 15 May), also found approximately a quarter (23%) of workers agreed that feeling lonely at work has impacted their mental health.
Admitting to feelings of loneliness may not always be easy, however, particularly in a professional environment; just under half (46%) of those surveyed said they would not feel confident letting a colleague know they felt isolated or lonely at work. This was most prevalent among those aged 18 to 24, as 59% of this group said they would not feel confident discussing loneliness with colleagues. In contrast, 49% of those aged 45 to 54 said they would feel confident in doing so.
Factors contributing to feelings of loneliness at work which subsequently impacted individuals’ mental health included lack of contact time with their immediate team, lack of contact time with their line manager or senior leader, and the cost of engaging with colleagues physically.
As employers navigate through the new normal, constructing the most effective hybrid working option for their workforce, how can they begin to support employees experiencing loneliness at work if they do not know the true extent of the issue?
Despite the large number of organisations that have taken steps to open up conversations around mental wellbeing and provide avenues of support in recent years, it seems many employees still do not feel comfortable in discussing mental wellbeing issues with their employer. Research published by Nuffield Health this week found that two-thirds of UK adults would not feel comfortable raising a mental health or emotional wellbeing issue with their employer.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that 41% of employers consider mental wellbeing issues to be the largest HR challenge currently facing their business, according to research by Barnett Waddingham. Encouragingly, 79% have actively reviewed their benefits offering since the start of the pandemic, with 49% making changes as a result. Nevertheless, unless employees feel able to discuss their mental health and the issues impacting this at work, including this growing sense of loneliness post-pandemic, many may not access the support available to them.