10 May 2022

Mental Health Awareness Week: Loneliness

Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 Monahans May22 Loneliness

Loneliness is rarely talked about, yet is one of the most prevalent underlying causes of mental and physical ill-health. Usually associated with the elderly, it is in fact an issue that touches all demographics of society and unfortunately, it’s getting worse. During 2021, research found that 3.7 million over-16s felt lonely, a 40% increase from the year prior.

Attributed to the emotions and physical symptoms we feel when we perceive ourselves to be disconnected from the world around us and the ones we love, loneliness can place huge amounts of stress on the wellbeing, both physical and mental, of an individual. From anxiety to depression, poor sleep patterns and low self-esteem, loneliness can become part of a cyclical issue which may become overwhelming if not managed.

The pandemic has undoubtedly increased the strain on people’s wellbeing, with many reporting feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially during periods of lockdown. It wasn’t only in their personal lives where people were feeling lonely either. The inability to go to the office, to see colleagues, engage in face-to-face conversations and be part of the usual camaraderie of the workplace meant that the UK saw a surge in the number of employees struggling to cope with isolation.

As the country begins to regain some sense of ‘normality’, businesses are working hard to help employees reintegrate into the workplace. What key aspects should businesses look to consider, with the support of their HR teams, to help tackle loneliness in this post-pandemic era, while also balancing the other needs and wants of their employees?

Hybrid working
As we emerge from the pandemic, there have been mixed reactions about which working models to adopt moving forward. Some employees never want to go back to the office again, while others favour working in the office full-time. Nevertheless, an extended period away from colleagues, water-cooler chats and face-to-face meetings can have an extremely detrimental effect on the wellbeing of staff.

46 per cent of workers who have worked from home have felt lonely at one point, with social isolation playing a big part. This loss of connection is something that employers should aim to rectify in this new business landscape through hybrid working policies, encouraging employees into the office at least once or twice a week to help rebuild relationships and connections lost over the past 24 months.

It’s not easy to find a middle ground for all employees – so there will need to be an element of negotiation. However, to make the job easier, it can be helpful to have a dedicated team that listens to and acts upon the needs of colleagues. At Monahans, we have specifically built a wellbeing team to act as not only a sounding board for employees, but also as their voice when it comes to making change within the organisation at top level.

Using technology for good
There are going to be moments, even within hybrid working environments, where team members won’t be with each other, but meetings still need to occur. Thanks to the immense digital transformation that has happened in such a short timeframe, this can happen almost seamlessly through telecommunication.

There are certain ways which these tools can be used to promote the best sense of connection, even when people aren’t physically together. This includes encouraging cameras to be on during conversations to mimic the face-to-face elements of conversations, to supplying teams with high-quality tools (such as headsets) to enable clear communication.

Additionally, the shift to working predominantly online presented opportunities to teams to find innovative ways to build team morale. We have an internal recognition system which enables team members and senior leaders to give positive recognition to those who go above and beyond.

Spotting the warning signs
Loneliness and feelings of isolation can present themselves in a multitude of different ways, all of which will be unique to an individual. However, through mental health training sessions, which will help garner a greater understanding of signs and symptoms of loneliness, managers will have a greater ability to spot the potential red flags in diminishing mental and physical wellbeing.

And it’s not just about recognising the signs, it’s also about knowing how to approach that person to offer support. There is still, sadly, a huge stigma around mental ill-health, and managers may feel unequipped to deal with the issues, or may feel that a person’s emotional state is private to them and not something they should get involved in.

The traditional ideology that employees should leave their personal life at the office door is one that is both outdated and one that doesn’t serve the business well. If an employee is under any form of stress or state of ill-health, that is ultimately going to affect how they perform. Employers and managers should work hard to create an environment where teams feel comfortable to be open and honest about how they are feeling, what they need and how they can be best supported.

There will be times where an employee needs additional support outside of the workplace to tackle any issues they may be having. Employers should consider what additional resources they can share with teams to ensure they gather the support they need.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) provide practical support and advice to employees about their wellbeing in the workplace and are a good place to start, provided they are signposted correctly. At Monahans, through our EAP, we offer free, face-to-face counselling sessions and phone support – just one way in which we look to assist our teams through more challenging times. Having accessible resources in a central location, such as our wellbeing hub, to signpost employees is also a useful tool to provide support.

Despite living in a world that’s more connected than ever through technology and social media, there’s no denying that our sense of true human connection is waning. The pandemic has revealed the reality of losing touch with those around us and the negative effects it can have. It’s time for businesses to work hard at reconnecting teams sustainably to tackle the rife issue of loneliness that the UK is witnessing in this post-pandemic world.

Juliet Mellues