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Managing employee loneliness during lockdown

by David Price, workplace wellbeing expert and CEO of Health Assured

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in an unprecedented manner. Due to the social restrictions put in place to protect us and those around us, the time that we spend with our friends and loved ones has been severely impacted.

Naturally, loneliness has become a by-product of the social restrictions put in place for many people around the world. This has been especially difficult for those living alone or who have had to self-isolate for a length of time.

Risks of a lonely workforce
Loneliness can often be the precursor of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. With research from Total Jobs finding that three in five (60%) employees feel lonely at work, it’s in the best interest of employers to make every effort in fighting off the spread of loneliness within their organisation.

In the same study, 68% of employees identified increased stress levels due to workplace loneliness. And it’s no secret that a stressed workforce is a less productive one.

High stress levels among employees can contribute to higher absences, increased turnover and a negative workplace atmosphere, not to mention the financial risks associated. Mental health issues, including work-related stress, cost the UK and Irish economies £26bn and €1.5bn per annum, respectively.

Managing employee loneliness
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the risk of employee loneliness is considerably higher than normal, and the opportunity for intervention has been reduced due to the increase in remote workers and furloughed staff.

While it may seem like a difficult task, there are numerous ways for employers to fulfil their duty of care towards their staff during these challenging times. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Check in – Conduct regular, informal one-on-one ‘catch-ups’ with your team members. If you can’t do these in person (at a safe distance) we recommend that you host virtual meetings via video calling software or a simple phone call. Use these catch-ups as an opportunity for the employee to raise any concerns they have regarding their work life and mental health.
  • Virtual gatherings – With many of us living in lockdown conditions for weeks and months, social interaction will be sorely missed by many of your employees. With this in mind, hosting a virtual ‘staff party’ can be a great way for employees to interact with their friends and colleagues – improving their moods in the process.
  • Signpost to EAP – Look into proving an employee assistance programme (EAP) so employees can discuss any mental health concerns. A compassionate, listening ear is just a phone call away.

Managing workplace loneliness during these unprecedented times is undoubtedly a challenge; however, by putting these suggestions in place, you will see a happier, healthier workforce. Which, in turn, will improve your workplace culture, productivity and overall performance.