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Managing feelings of loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ahead of Loneliness Awareness Week (June 15th-19th), Naomi Thompson, Head of Organisational Development at Benenden Health, provides insight into how employers can help keep feelings of loneliness at bay for their remote and furloughed employees.

As the Government has recently announced its furlough scheme will be extended to October 2020 and some businesses are still operating remotely, the prospect of employees returning to offices this summer remains uncertain.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, individuals may have been experiencing their own feelings of loneliness, whether from shielding on their own, being alone in the house whilst others continue to work, or sadly they may have been separated with loved ones through illness and the requirement of medical attention. Similarly, employees may be struggling with the lack of contact with colleagues whilst working remotely or on furlough.

When we think about loneliness, we often think about isolation from family and loved ones, but employees often spend more time with their colleagues than anyone else and as such, changes to the working environment can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of individuals.

There are, however, ways that employers can support their workers to help alleviate such feelings of loneliness.

Maintain honest and open communication about the business:
Maintaining regular and honest communication with employees about business operations can be crucial in reducing anxieties and keeping workforces involved and engaged.

If you have employees on furlough, it is important to include them in communications where possible to avoid feelings of isolation, uncertainty about their future, anxiety and loneliness.

As most furloughed employees are staying away from company emails, communicating with them through external means is important, so if you have a business update to share, social activities to invite them to or want to check in on their wellbeing, make sure you keep in touch.

Create a learning and development plan:
A significant cause of loneliness is the feeling of being left behind. As a number of businesses have either placed employees on furlough leave or reduced their hours, some employees may feel their career progression may be put on hold due to the pandemic.

It is therefore important for employers to create assurances for both furloughed and remote employees where possible. Suggest that time away from work can be used to think about new skills, remind them of their value to the business and support them by suggesting ways that they can aid their own career development.

Book a consistent stream of socials – and stick to them:
If you are used to having Friday drinks with the team, or office birthday celebrations, then maintaining these activities is important for the morale, wellbeing and engagement of employees whether working from an office, from home, or not currently working at all.

Maintaining this culture is as important as ever during this pandemic, with a recent Benenden Health study finding that 35 percent of individuals feel their mental health has suffered due to COVID-19, with 38 percent saying support from employers could help ease the stress they are experiencing day-to-day.

Organising weekly Friday catch ups, for example, allows employees to maintain that social contact and benefits those living alone and suffering from loneliness, as this provides regular and much valued face-to-face interaction.

Encourage employees to focus on their wellbeing:
During times when social calls are not booked in, it is important that employers support employees by promoting positive wellbeing across the business. This could be through recommending and joining online exercise classes, book clubs or mindfulness sessions to name a few.

For those in need of further support, providing employees with services such as a mental health helpline can be a responsible and effective way of reducing stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Benenden Health has a 24/7 mental health helpline for members who may need someone to talk to in times of uncertainty or distress.

All of the above can be important tools in keeping feelings of loneliness at bay at such a sensitive and challenging time, and can also help employees feel motivated, productive, and engaged with your business.

Benenden Health has produced a COVID-19 hub on its website with tips and information on how to support the mental wellbeing of employees during the pandemic.