Mental Health Awareness week 2022 starts on the 9th of May, and this year’s theme is loneliness. While it’s normal to feel lonely from time to time, research has shown when it lasts for some time it can have a negative impact on health and wellbeing. Long-term loneliness is even associated with a higher risk of certain mental health conditions, including, anxiety, depression and increased stress.
The impact of loneliness
While it might feel difficult to talk about, there are things you can do to help support yourself and your colleagues. We’ve spoken to Marmalade Trust, a charity dedicated to raising awareness of loneliness and helping people make new friendships, to find out more about it, and put together some resources to help you and your colleagues combat loneliness in the workplace.
“Loneliness is a natural human emotion that most of us will experience at some point in our lives,” says Amy Perrin, Founder and CEO of Marmalade Trust. “It can affect our confidence, both how we feel about ourselves and our desire to reach out and engage with others.”
She explains that the pandemic has changed the way many of us work, and that has left some people feeling more isolated. “Many more of us are working from home part time and some of us are not returning to the work environment in the same way at all,” she says. “For some people, particularly those living alone, working from home can increase feelings of loneliness as you are less likely to be meeting colleagues. We’ve spoken to people who have said, ‘No one makes me a cuppa and asks me how my weekend is anymore.'” Some people are just missing those ‘water-cooler moments’ – the causal chatter of a friendly workplace.
How can I help my colleagues?
It might feel awkward taking the first steps towards talking about loneliness, but Amy is confident you can make a big difference. “Why not add loneliness to the agenda of a team meeting?” she suggests. “Or, bring it up in 1 to 1 sessions with staff. If a colleague is feeling lonely, ask them what would help to make them feel more connected at work. This might be change in work times or days, coming into the office more, having more regular meetings, having smaller remote team meetings or planning in some face to face social time.”
What if I feel lonely?
If you find yourself feeling the effects of loneliness, it can be a good idea to take some time to consider what would help you. “First of all, think about your social connections at work,” Amy says. “Are they sufficient? Meaningful? Are they enough? Are too many on digital platforms like Zoom and Teams and not enough face to face? Think about what you want, and reach out to your employee to discuss what would help.”
For those who work alone
Many of us simply don’t have colleagues to talk to at work because we’re the only employee! But Amy says there are still steps you can take to feel more connected in your workplace. “Think about your day, what kind of contact are you having?” she suggests. “Can you mix it up with some face to face meetings or telephone calls rather than Zoom?” You could always think about a change of scenery, getting outside and enjoying some fresh air, if you can. “Break the day up, to make sure you are connecting with people in different ways,” Amy adds. “Some people find working odd days in a shared space can be beneficial and others have talked about having mentoring groups that meet for a walk once a week. Think about what works for you – we are all different!”
Check out these resources for more tips on combating loneliness in your workplace.