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- Businesses urged to “normalise loneliness” to help struggling employees
- Over 3 million adults “often or always” feel lonely in Britain
- Nearly four in 10 (36%) HR managers state that they don’t understand, or aren’t sure if they know the protocols to take when employee mental health deteriorates
- Clinical experts give practical tips businesses can use to combat employee loneliness at work

As Mental Health Awareness Week approaches (9-15th May), experts at Wellbeing Partners are urging businesses to “normalise loneliness” to help reduce the stigma employees may feel.

The latest ONS figures show that 3.7 million adults “often or always” feel lonely in Great Britain - rising from 2.6 million in 2020. Problematically, data from Wellbeing Partners, clinical experts in employee mental health, reveals that employers are not prepared for the issue: nearly four in 10 (36%) HR managers state that they don’t understand, or aren’t sure if they know the protocols to take when employees show signs of deteriorating mental health*.

As a result, advisers at Wellbeing Partners are calling for more businesses to recognise the commonality of the problem - not only so they can better tackle the issue but so that employees do not feel isolated in their experiences.

Lou Campbell, Programmes Director at Wellbeing Partners states:

“Especially in light of the pandemic and as more employees work in remote or hybrid environments, businesses must help employees understand that feeling lonely is a very common occurrence. Normalising the experience is essential to remove any feelings of shame. After all, humans are inherently social beings and missing out on typical social interactions can be problematic for many.

“For employers, neglecting the issue of loneliness could be detrimental to employee wellbeing; in some cases, loneliness can impair the ability of individuals to interact with others normally or can lead to the “loneliness loop”, a toxic combination of low self-esteem, hostility, stress, pessimism and social anxiety. In more detrimental cases, it can even lead to premature death. It’s therefore essential that businesses take action to recognise when employees need support and to provide actionable solutions.”

Data also reveals that loneliness can have negative impacts beyond employee wellbeing, harming business processes too. As a result of its effects on employee health, productivity, staff turnover and sickness absence, loneliness costs UK businesses an estimated £2.5 billion per year.

There are, however, ways businesses can support staff experiencing loneliness. Campbell suggests 4 tactics:

1. Intentional Connection

Ensure that employees have time to make intentional connections with others - not just through regular meetings or in-office hours. Time should be organised specifically for social moments, ensuring that employees have the opportunity to bolster connections with colleagues outside of typical work conversations.

Make sure too that employees recognise the importance of intentional connection outside of work. Encourage them to organise social meetups with friends and family and seek out new contacts by starting a hobby or joining a group with shared interests. Ensuring employees feel socially fulfilled outside of office-hours is equally vital in maintaining their wellbeing within the workplace.

2. Self-Care to Combat Loneliness

Encouraging employees to improve everyday wellbeing ensures that employees care for themselves, show themselves compassion and remove self-criticism over feeling lonely.

Small changes to boost wellbeing can help; employees who practise self-care by getting more sleep, improving their diet (and avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs), and spending more time in nature can better combat loneliness.

As well as this, educating on the power of movement, stretching and yoga can help rebuild an emotional and physical connection.

3. Conscious Use of Social Media

When so many everyday and work tasks now take place online, there can be a large sense of overwhelm from online connectivity. Problematically, constant scrolling can heighten feelings of loneliness and separation from real people. Those making constant comparisons of themselves to others seen online can also reduce self-esteem.

Help ensure that employees take conscious breaks from online activity and social media. Provide recommendations around screen time at work and encourage employees to regularly step away from technology in their work and free time.

4. Provide Professional Support

Ultimately, managers are often not trained to deal with mental health issues and should not bear the full responsibility for employees suffering from loneliness. An organisation should include access to some form of professional support such as specialist employee counselling in addition to an EAP service.

Employee wellbeing workshops, such as “Improving Connection and Belonging”, can also help lonely and isolated employees to improve their situation, giving them the tools and clinical advice needed to better manage their wellbeing and help them feel more fulfilled and productive at work.

- Ends -

*Wellbeing Partners' survey took place in January 2022, with responses from 200 UK HR managers.

About Wellbeing Partners

Wellbeing Partners is a firm of clinical experts in employee mental health, providing a range of tools to aid the emotional, mental and physical wellbeing of employees. Its market-leading wellbeing workshops, mental health training courses and confidential one to one counselling services provide support to over 350 organisations in the UK and across the world. Its team includes more than 50 qualified health experts, delivering evidence based services on a range of topics from mental, physical and nutritional health to parenting and menopause support.

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