Mental Health Awareness Week runs from May 9 to 15 and this year’s theme explores the experience of loneliness, its effect on mental health and how we can all play a part in reducing it.
Loneliness affects millions of people in the UK every year and is a key driver of poor mental health. Furthermore, loneliness in the workplace is more common than we think and, even when people are surrounded by their colleagues, they can still feel the effects.
The problem was certainly exacerbated by the pandemic, as people found themselves working from home and struggling with isolation. However, as offices increasingly open up once again, the issue of loneliness hasn’t gone away, with people still finding it difficult to connect with others.
Not only is loneliness a health risk which can lead to health conditions such as dementia, depression and anxiety, but it also impacts well-being and how engaged, effective and productive employees feel at work. Indeed, lonely workers have less job satisfaction, are more likely to call in sick and, as a result, be passed over for promotion and therefore resign in search of a new role.
For many people, work is their main source of interaction with other people, which is why employers have an important part to play when it comes to tackling the problem. Here, we share our top tips for how managers can help to reduce workplace loneliness and keep hold of their best talent.
Encourage colleague connections
Create spaces or breakout areas where employees who share an interest or concern can connect and collaborate, whether that’s in the office, outdoors or remotely via a video platform.
In this way, people can then start their own groups, for example a book club or yoga session, or simply meet to have an informal chat over lunch, rather than sitting at their desk.
A change of scene will help take employees away from a stressful situation and give them the opportunity to relax and share their thoughts and any frustrations they might have.
Ensure senior team members take responsibility
It’s essential that staff feel comfortable speaking up about problems they’re facing which is why it’s important to foster a culture where people can talk openly and honestly about these issues.
Encourage managers and team leaders to host weekly sessions - as well as operating an open door policy - where employees have a safe space to ask them about anything which might be concerning them.
This then offers employees and their managers to exchange ideas and develop relationships. An open structure such as this will ultimately build trust and understanding outside of more formal work emails, calls and business meetings.
In addition, make sure that managers communicate any important business updates, changes and achievements so that everyone can feel like they’re working towards the same goals.
Cultivate strong teamwork
Teamwork and a shared sense of purpose can help to build camaraderie and erode feelings of loneliness. Be clear with team members about their objectives and the skills they need to develop in order to succeed at their day-to-day tasks.
Aim to build a team that has shared values as this will help to avoid conflict and people feeling isolated. It will also help to ensure that new starters are a better fit with the rest of the team, because their values and purpose will be aligned with the wider organisation right from the beginning.
Offer wellbeing benefits
These types of benefits will help to make employees feel more valued, settled and loyal. They might include anything from fitness classes and gym membership to counselling, psychotherapy and meditation app subscriptions. Access to general health checks are always welcome, as are spa treatments, vitamin subscriptions and meal kit boxes.
Make reasonable adjustments
If someone is suffering because of their mental health, think about making reasonable workplace adjustments to help smooth their path.
This could be changing an employee’s working pattern to enable them to start later or finish earlier, providing a laptop and remote access software to work at home on set days or excusing them from attending work functions and client events and instead allowing them to set up alternative networking arrangements.
Allow plenty of breaks
It’s important to encourage employees to take proper screen breaks to either do exercise, go for a walk, read a book, listen to a podcast or have a chat with someone. They should also be advised to work sensible hours and agree to clear boundaries which protect their work-life balance.
Offering mental health days is also a good way to ensure that people take some time off work, earn themselves a well-deserved break and return feeling refreshed and recharged.
Provide regular appraisals
Appraisals and one-to-ones are good for staff engagement as employers can use them as an opportunity to boost an individual’s confidence by letting them know their strengths and how they might develop their career pathway.
It also provides a platform for employees to share any mental health or wellbeing concerns they might have and put an action plan in place so they can navigate them, reach their goals and perform more effectively in their role.
Try going one step further by encouraging staff members to identify factors that might play a role in them becoming unwell and consider how to deal with them.
Remember random acts of kindness
Even the smallest gestures can make a big difference, like making someone a coffee or remembering to greet them in the morning and ask how they are. This demonstrates a caring side which will have a positive knock-on effect for other employees.
Taking these steps will help to create a space where people who are suffering with their mental health or feeling lonely will feel like they have someone to confide in and somewhere to gather their thoughts when they need to. This, in turn, will result in a workplace which is more positive, empathetic and inclusive.
If you would like to discuss this or any of the topics covered in our articles, get in touch.