Leila Moss-Kelly, Corporate Communications Manager at Ben
A new report by the Young Woman’s Trust reveals that young people feel lonelier than those in later life, with one in four 18-30 year olds saying they feel isolated.
Moreover, one in eight people report they have no close friends, while one in five feel lonely all or most of the time. These are worrying figures, given that loneliness is said to be as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
With full-time employees spending an average of 42.3 hours a week at work, the workplace has great potential to combat this trend by encouraging strong social connections amongst colleagues. However, a 2014 study by Relate found that 42 per cent of people have no friends at work.
If you think that this is just a problem for individuals, think again. Read on to discover the impact loneliness might be having on your business and our top tips to help combat it.
Why you should care about loneliness in your organisation?
Encouraging your employees to make friends in the workplace won’t just benefit them, it will also bring a whole host of benefits to your business. Lonely employees have lower productivity levels, emotionally withdraw from their organisation and are at higher risk of burnout. Furthermore, new research by totaljobs has revealed that a shocking 26 per cent of UK workers have quit their jobs as a result of workplace loneliness.
Meanwhile, employees who are friends with their colleagues show increased work engagement and loyalty, making them more motivated in their job and better ambassadors for your business. Teams that get on well with each other create a more enjoyable and supportive office culture, lowering stress levels, boosting productivity and helping employees to perform at their best. Furthermore, employees who work in a friendly culture stay twice as long at a company, greatly reducing turnover and recruitment costs.
So, how can you make your organisation more sociable?
There are many things you can do within your organisation to help reduce loneliness and encourage better connections amongst your employees.
Keep telecommuting workers in the loop
Telecommuting is becoming a popular option amongst employees, thanks to the flexibility it affords. However, working from home can also be a lonely and isolating experience for some people. Home workers miss out on day-to-day office interactions which can leave them feeling disconnected from their colleagues and organisation.
If you have employees who work from home or are frequently travelling on business it’s important to make them feel connected. Use the phone, skype or video call to communicate with them instead of email; when you’re on your own it’s nice to hear another human voice! Similarly, bring them into regular team meetings over video so that they feel included. Celebrate their achievements and special days as you would any other colleague e.g. by posting them a card on their birthday. You can also encourage them to join a hub or communal workspace in their area so they can experience an office environment if they want to. Finally, organise in-person catch ups or team events several times a year if possible, so that telecommuters can get to know their colleagues better.
Encourage face to face communication
Thanks to modern technology, even if you make it to the office, that’s no guarantee of face-to-face human interaction. Nowadays, most people will email a colleague rather than ask a question in person, and many spend their break times on their phones. This means that employees are missing out on the small interactions that help people to feel socially connected and build strong working relationships. It’s also less efficient. Studies suggest that a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email. How many confusing email chains have you seen that could have been cleared up with a quick conversation?
So next time you’re reviewing your communications policy, beware of relying too heavily on team messaging systems such as Slack or Skype messenger. Whilst they have their place, encourage your employees to have face-to-face discussions and team catch ups as well to promote better communication, forge stronger bonds between colleagues and reduce workplace loneliness.
Get different departments chatting
It’s common for organisations to have specialised departments which work largely in isolation from each other. However, a great way to make people feel better connected at work is to encourage more communication, cooperation and camaraderie between teams.
Linking up departments will give employees a fuller understanding of the business as a whole and help them to work more creatively, approaching problems from new angles. It will also encourage employees to get to know people across the organisation creating a better sense of belonging. Those who feel lonely in their own department might well find a good friend waiting for them in another.
Create social areas and promote proper lunch breaks
A study by totaljobs showed that more than half of employees (56 per cent) don’t take their full lunch breaks because they feel that they have too much to do. Not only is this bad for their health and productivity, it also wastes a prime opportunity to bond with colleagues.
Encourage your employees to make full use of their breaks and provide a shared social area in which they can relax away from their desks. If you don’t have the space or budget for a proper kitchen try putting some comfy chairs around the water cooler or another separated section of the office. This will encourage people to congregate and socialise at lunchtime instead of eating a lonely sandwich at their desks.
Organise social activities, team lunches and celebrations
A team that plays together stays together. Whilst you want to avoid the feeling of ‘forced fun’ at work, social activities can be a great way to help colleagues to bond. Try setting up a company football team, book club or other hobby groups for people to join. Getting involved in charity fundraisers is another great way to bring a whole team together to do something fun and rewarding.
Meanwhile, consistently celebrating employee birthdays and business successes will help employees to feel valued, whilst regular team socials and company-wide events will allow them to get to know each other in a relaxed setting. Make sure that new starters are aware of any social activities that are going on and include them as much as possible to help them settle in.
If you’re worried about someone
If you’re concerned that a particular person in your team is lonely, it’s important to build an open line of communication with them so that they can share how they’re feeling. You can’t force someone into social activities, but sometimes just being there for them will be enough to make them feel less isolated. With a little encouragement they might be a bit more proactive about seeking out connections with their colleagues.