“There’s a future where you never leave your home and after COVID is over, the most dangerous thing will be loneliness,” said Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky at a recent conference. The comment was made when discussing the impact of remote and hybrid working on workers and organisations.
Before the pandemic, remote and hybrid working had been becoming more popular in the UK. Around 1 in 10 employees spent at least a day working from home with 1 in 20 working most of the time from home.
This trend obviously increased through the pandemic, and we now see almost twice as many people (1 in 5) working at least one day from home – with 1 in 8 exclusively from home in September 2022.
With this changing dynamic comes positives and negatives. Some of the positives include people having more control over their time and can skipping the morning commute. But a negative comes in the form of increased feelings of loneliness for some employees.
Supporting employees who are feeling lonely
The simple act of talking openly to another person is incredibly healing. That process of sharing brings with it a world of comfort, insight and relief. If you’ve ever had that experience of a weight lifting from your shoulders, you’ll know what I mean. It’s important to choose someone who you trust: someone who will hold a safe, non-judgmental space for you without interrupting you or bowling in with their own stories.
You too can be that listening ear for someone. All you need is an interest in what the other person is saying and your wholehearted attention. When someone is really listened to, they naturally just open up and share what is going on for them. You don’t need to be trained as a counsellor to listen to someone. You don’t need to offer solutions – in fact, it’s usually better if you don’t. Very often, the mere process of sharing our troubles gives us the headspace to figure out for ourselves what we need to do next.
We don’t do well cut off from others. We all have an innate need to connect with other humans and to be heard. Because a mountain of research points to the negative effects on our physical health when we feel isolated, unacknowledged, or ignored. And that’s without even touching on the damage it does to our emotional wellbeing.
There’s so much focus these days on the role of diet and exercise in our health – and rightly so. But, amidst all that advice to eat kale and do interval training, the vital role of human relationships often gets overlooked. The truth is that the quality of our relationships dictates our level of happiness and has a massive impact on our mental, emotional and physical health.
An authentic, warm human connection is nothing less than medicine. And it doesn’t just have to be with your partner, family or friends. Many of us have found our closest, most mutually supportive relationships at work. Whether it’s a chat over the coffee machine, a phone call or Skype chat, don’t underestimate the power of simple, free, good old-fashioned talking.
Tips to share around the workplace to help employees manage loneliness
Tell others how you’re feeling
It can be difficult to open up, but you can always use a befriending service, online community or a support phoneline like an Employee Assistance Programme.
Get peer support
You can find supportive, reliable relationships through volunteers at befriending.co.uk and Side by Side is Mind’s online mental health support community.
Join a community
Joining a group or class helps to connect with others who have a shared interest.
Becoming a volunteer is also a great way to combat loneliness. This helps make new connections and helping others is a good way to boost wellbeing.