Loneliness at work: A challenge for the mental health of employees

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We live in an increasingly interconnected world. But, paradoxically, loneliness at work has become a problem for employees worldwide. A recent Gallup study reveals that 20% of employees globally experience daily loneliness. An alarming statistic that deserves the full attention of team leaders.

So, in this article we are going to thoroughly explore the causes, consequences and solutions for loneliness in the workplace based on research from experts in the field.

Keep reading!

What is loneliness?

Before continuing, we must first understand the concept we are going to discuss. Loneliness is a complex and multifaceted experience that goes beyond the simple absence of company.

In general, we could define loneliness as a subjective feeling of isolation, where the person perceives a disconnection or lack of meaningful relationships with others.

One thing we should keep in mind is that loneliness does not always coincide with being physically alone: a person can feel lonely even in a crowd if they believe their relationships are unsatisfactory.

Therefore, we can divide loneliness into two dimensions or types:

  • Emotional loneliness: It is the lack of a deep emotional connection with another person. For example, when someone lacks intimate relationships, such as close friendship or romantic love, with which to share their most personal thoughts.
  • Social loneliness: Occurs when a person feels that they do not belong to a broader social group, such as friends, work colleagues or communities, causing them to feel excluded or marginalized.

Loneliness at work

Loneliness is not just an individual phenomenon. As we will see below, it also manifests within organizations.

In this context, loneliness can arise due to several factors, such as work structure, corporate culture, and interactions (or lack thereof) between employees.

With the increase in teleworking and dependence on technology for communication, leaders face the challenge every day of creating a work environment that promotes connection and a sense of belonging among their collaborators.

The reality is that loneliness has notable implications for the work environment, motivation, satisfaction, and team performance.

So, it is extremely important for companies to measure and recognize loneliness among their employees and take proactive measures to address it.

The prevalence of loneliness in the workplace

At work, loneliness does not discriminate by age. But there are certain groups that seem to be more affected.

People under 35 report higher levels of loneliness compared to their older colleagues. In addition, the type of work also plays a crucial role: employees who work completely remotely report significantly higher levels of loneliness (25%) than those who work in person (16%).

These data suggest that, despite technological advances that allow us to be connected anytime anywhere, face-to-face interaction remains an essential component for the mental health of the workforce.

The devastating effects of loneliness

Loneliness and social isolation not only affect our emotional well-being , but also have serious consequences for physical health.

Harvard professor and Gallup senior scientist Lisa Berkman, along with her colleagues, conducted a study that showed that a lack of social and community ties doubles the risk of mortality. What’s more, this risk remained constant regardless of the physical health status, socioeconomic status, and habits of the individuals.

Specifically, it was found that chronic loneliness is linked to serious problems, including cardiovascular diseases, depression and a strong weakening of the immune system.

The role of organizations in reducing loneliness among their employees

Interestingly, work itself can be a solution to loneliness. Gallup study data shows that working adults are less likely to experience this feeling (20%) compared to those who are unemployed (32%).

The logic behind these statistics is simple: work interactions provide a sense of belonging and social support.

In this sense, the researchers noted that any form of social time, including by phone, video or text messages, is associated with an improvement in employee mood.

However, digital interactions have their handicap.

The study also highlights that there is a limit to the benefit of interactions that are not face to face: after a time (not so long), the mood begins to decline.

So organizations need to find the balance between online and in-person interactions to prevent loneliness among employees from setting in.

Strategies to combat loneliness among employees

Since this is a complex problem with multiple causes and many layers, the solutions must also be just as varied.

Below, we leave you with some strategies that you can put into practice to help your employees feel more connected and supported:

Encourage social interactions: It’s great to create opportunities for employees to connect, both in person and virtually. It can be done through team meetings, team buildings or even with mentoring programs. These spaces allow employees to build strong relationships and feel part of a community that values them.

Support flexible work: While for some remote work intensifies the feeling of loneliness, it is also true that it offers possibilities that help improve general well-being. Hybrid work combines the best of both worlds.

Promote mental well-being: Loneliness and mental health are closely related. Offering psychological support resources helps people who need it to better manage their emotions, reducing the negative impact of this feeling.

Create a culture of inclusion: Of course, is essential to ensure that everyone feels valued and heard. Implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives, along with strong anti-harassment policies, make a big difference in the work environment and employee well-being.

Train leaders: We must not forget that leaders have a crucial role in creating a positive work environment. Managers must be trained so that they can recognize who is at risk of isolation and act quickly and effectively. Furthermore, an empathetic and attentive leader totally transforms the team dynamic. For good.

Can loneliness be measured at work?

Luckily, yes. Loneliness at work can be measured through different methods that allow us to evaluate the degree of isolation and disconnection that employees feel in their work environment.

Here are some of the most common approaches:

Surveys

Surveys and questionnaires are direct and effective methods for measuring loneliness. Some specific tools include:

  • UCLA Loneliness Scale: One of the most used scales to measure loneliness. Although it is not designed exclusively for the workplace, it can be adapted.
  • Workplace Loneliness Scale: Developed specifically to measure loneliness in the work context, this scale asks about employees’ experiences and feelings in relation to their work environment and their colleagues.

You can also use tools like Team Insights, which will allow you to quickly and easily create your own questionnaires either from scratch, or by customizing one of the predefined surveys created by HR professionals.

In addition, its attractive and intuitive interface, advanced data analysis, artificial intelligence, exportable data, and the option to carry out anonymous and non-anonymous surveys make it one of the most competitive feedback tools on the market.

Example of questions to measure loneliness at work

  • How often do you feel isolated at work?
  • Do you have someone at work to share your thoughts and feelings with?
  • Do you feel like you are part of a community at your workplace?
  • How often do you feel alone during your work day?

Interviews and focus groups

In these spaces, employees can talk freely about their experiences and feelings, offering rich and detailed information difficult to obtain through quantitative methods. Interviews allow for a more personal and deeper connection, while focus groups encourage the exchange of ideas and opinions, revealing group dynamics and collective perceptions.

These qualitative methods are essential to truly understand the work environment and the needs of your team.

Social network analysis

By exploring the relationships and connections between employees through a sociogram, you will be able to identify patterns of isolation and measure group cohesion, detect employees at risk of feeling lonely and have a clear view of internal dynamics, facilitating more precise and effective interventions.

Wellbeing and mental health indicators

To understand your employees’ mental health, monitor stress levels, job satisfaction, and absenteeism. For example, if an employee shows an increase in absences and reports high levels of stress along with low job satisfaction, these indicators would indicate that this person may be dealing with feelings of loneliness. This way, you can intervene with specific support programs, such as coaching sessions or wellness initiatives, to improve their well-being and promote a healthier work environment.

To finish…

Fighting loneliness at work is a shared responsibility. With concerted effort and commitment, we can create work environments where every employee feels connected and supported, regardless of where or how they work.

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