Loneliness in the Workplace is Another Symptom of COVID-19. Here’s What Employers Can Do to Help

Sad or troubled worker

Loneliness is on the rise, and COVID-19 has made the situation worse. For employees, suddenly being thrust into remote working has taken its toll, with many reporting increased feelings of isolation and anxiety. This can spell trouble for employers: loneliness has a range of related health consequences, which in turn, send motivation, productivity, and retention into a nosedive. 

Unmanaged loneliness could lead to a range of health issues among remote employees 

(Image Source).

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at loneliness, its effects, and how to manage it as an employer. Let’s get started. 

What is Loneliness?

There’s a difference between being lonely, and being alone. Most of us enjoy some alone time occasionally—and solitude is proven to be beneficial. But for those who don’t have the option—for example, elderly people who don’t have a support network in place, there are more likely to be negative physical and psychological effects. In fact, according to one report, loneliness can be as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Furthermore, people who feel chronically lonely are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social connections. 

It’s a misconception, however, that loneliness is an affliction that only affects elderly people without companions. It’s possible to feel lonely in a group of people if you feel those you’re spending time with don’t understand you, or you feel unable to express yourself. It’s also on the rise among young people, with Gen Z (those born in the mid-90s to early 00s) reporting feeling more lonely than any other generation.

Gen Z is reportedly the loneliest generation (Image Source).

Loneliness and COVID-19

The COVID pandemic has caused an epidemic of anxiety and loneliness, with social distancing rules exacerbating feelings of isolation. In one study, 80% of 1,008 people aged 18–35 reported “significant depressive symptoms” during the pandemic.

“These young adults are the future of our nation’s social fabric,” says Horigian, lead author of the study. “They need to be given access to psychological help, coupled with the development and dissemination of brief online contact-based interventions that encourage healthy lifestyles.”

Why is Loneliness Lethal?

Scientists have already identified a link between loneliness and psychological problems. It comes with a variety of physical and psychological issues that can feed into each other and create a vicious cycle that deteriorates health. It reduces your immunity, which can increase your risk of disease. 

Loneliness may increase inflammation, which can cause or exacerbate a range of chronic health conditions, including heart disease. It also lowers the individual’s ability to cope with stress, meaning everyday issues may seem insurmountable and have a greater emotional toll. 

Remote Working Can Contribute to Feelings of Loneliness

Away from the rhythms of daily working life, remote workers can struggle. With no coworker support, a lack of structure, and fewer face-to-face interactions, individuals can easily feel isolated if the situation isn’t carefully managed. 

In Buffer’s 2021 survey of remote workers, 16% reported feelings of loneliness as being their biggest challenge (Image Source). 

Why it’s Important Employers Pay Attention to Workers Who May Be Showing Signs of Loneliness

When a worker feels disconnected from their colleagues and their job, they’re less likely to feel engaged with their work. Their performance can slip, and this has a direct impact on your organization’s bottom line. 

In the workplace, loneliness refers to an employee who feels disengaged from their work and peers. They then become detached from the organization’s success and goals. Employees feeling lonely are less likely to involve themselves in functions, team initiatives, and decisions. Their motivation is low, their performance suffers, and they are at higher risk of burnout. The overall effect is low engagement and eventually, employee attrition.

Signs your Remote Workers are Feeling Lonely

  • Missed deadlines and lower-quality work
  • Regular calling in sick or requests for time off
  • Low or no interaction with colleagues 
  • Lack of interest in decisions or team projects
  • Only talks business
  • Skips meetings
  • Doesn’t offer input 
  • Isn’t interested in developing their career 

Transparent communication, building trusting relationships, and paying attention to the behaviors of remote workers can help you spot problems early on, and take steps to help employees feel part of the team again. 

3 Things Employers Can Do to Support Their Workforce

  • Communicate Often

Mental illness is still considered taboo in the workplace, which is why it’s all the more important employers speak openly about it. There’s also a big lack of trust among employees in the ability of their employer to handle issues of mental health compassionately: research by Totaljobs found that 13% of employees don’t confide in anyone because they feel it would harm their career. 

Make it clear that the workplace is a safe space for sharing problems. One way to do this is to encourage leaders to discuss their own struggles. 

“Leaders at an organization can demonstrate vulnerability by sharing how this year has impacted them in an effort to connect with others who are coping,” says Nani Vishwanath, people team manager at Limeaide. “Feelings of loneliness and stress at the employee level cannot be compartmentalized and left outside of work—we know that employees bring that with them.” 

  • Encourage Team-Building Activities 

Aside from strengthening team culture and collaboration, team building can help curb feelings of loneliness. Working together on non-work things gives employees a chance to strengthen their bonds with each other and develop meaningful relationships with their colleagues. 

  • Provide Digital Healthcare Services

It’s important to support employees’ physical and mental health. As discussed above, loneliness can cause significant psychological and physical issues which, if left unaddressed, could negatively impact employee wellbeing. With telehealth, employees can regularly talk to a professional about their health and well-being, as well as receive guidance, coaching, and medical advice from the comfort of their homes. This also means that if an employee is worried about an unrelated health issue, they needn’t suffer in silence. 

If you’d like to speak to one of our experts about ChronWell’s digital health solutions, get in touch today

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