Why loneliness is a risk for your team

Would you know if your team members were experiencing loneliness, or the cost it could be having to your business?

Feelings of isolation and loneliness can indiscriminately affect all of us in many parts of our lives.

Even with a regular working routine, whether on premises or remotely, feelings of loneliness can appear.

Loneliness is a leading cause of mental health issues and has been connected to issues like substance misuse, grief, stress, sleep interruptions and several physical health issues.

In this month’s health and wellbeing update, we look at how workplace leaders can positively address loneliness and can create a healthier and more engaging work environment.

What loneliness can look like at work

Loneliness can have a profound effect on workers' wellbeing and productivity.

In fast-paced and demanding jobs, people may often experience feelings of isolation and disconnection.

Long hours, high stress levels, and emotionally demanding situations can contribute to a sense of loneliness among your employees.

It can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression, which in turn can impact job satisfaction and performance.

“Loneliness is not so much about being alone, but more the feeling that no-one cares” Psychologist at Assure Nicole Lees said.

According to Seek, more than two thirds of people (67%) said loneliness can have a negative impact on their sense of job satisfaction.

Without meaningful connections, we can feel sad, unmotivated, heavy, withdrawn, or teary.

Communication and collaboration may suffer, hindering the delivery of high-quality work.

Recognising the impact of loneliness can help create a supportive work environment and bring multiple benefits to your team as part of your wellbeing strategy.

Relationship refresh

In April 2020, at the height of lockdown measures, more than 40% of employed Australians reported working from home.

The isolation resulting from remote work was amplified by the physical distancing measures in effect at the time.

An Australian National University survey revealed that during the pandemic, over 30% of Australians reported feeling lonely at least some of the time.

With limited face-to-face interactions and reduced opportunities for social connection, employees across various industries experienced a heightened sense of loneliness.

Further feelings of isolation can also arise in proximity to work when people work remotely, return after long periods of leave or after injury, illness or disability.

“Sometimes people worry about being a burden and may not feel the care is there, other times the care is not available at that time” Nicole said.

“In those moments, having someone to reach out to, without guilt or worry can make such a great difference.”

Providing a working environment where people feel comfortable expressing their low mood to their colleagues is one way of alleviating the impact on your team.

Some of the signs someone might be experiencing loneliness include:

  • Stops offering input or interacting with colleagues in the workplace
  • Decline in the quality of their work
  • Lack of or less interest in learning and development
  • Changes to their working hours/routine or appearance
  • Increased apathy, only talking about work

Leading the lonely

Leaders can help address the challenges of loneliness and promote positive mental health by implementing strategies to support employees’, sense of connection, wellbeing, and productivity.

Remember to check in with everyone – don’t forget to reach out to all full time, part time, casual or remote employees.

If you’re worried about someone you don’t know that well, or someone you do know well – it can feel equally nerve wracking to reach out.

Tips to increase connection

As a leader or manager, it’s important to stay close with your team. It’s also important they feel they can trust you and confidently communicate with you.

You can reinforce connection when you:

  • Give your team a strong purpose – working with purpose means you’re working for a reason that everyone is invested in. Having something they can get behind builds a sense of belonging.
  • Have face to face meetings – making the time to meet helps build and reinforce trust and keeps communication lines open. They help keep people connected and enable any issues to be addressed quickly as possible.
  • Create opportunities for connections – different activities will work for different groups of people. A good place to start is the simple act of sharing a meal together or taking your break together and foster what grows from there.
  • Share openly – keeping your team informed is more than just sharing the information they need to do a job or what you feel they need to know. More openness will give your team a great sense of purpose and trust.
  • Be a voice of gratitude – celebrate all your wins. This isn’t as difficult as it might seem and has a huge impact on your team’s morale, purpose and goes a long way to help people feel included.

Tips to reach out

Anyone can use these strategies from BeyondBlue to reach out:

  • Learn what support is available so you can share it – these will be different in every workplace and can include employee assistance and peer support programs, or a Health and Safety Representative.
  • Ask if they’re okay – be genuine, explain why you’re concerned and if they’re not ready to talk, be patient.
    • 'You haven’t seemed yourself lately – is everything OK?'
    • 'OK, but you know you can talk to me if you ever need to'
  • Listen to what they tell you – take your time to try and understand their experience. Don’t jump to giving advice, they may just need someone to listen. Silence may feel uncomfortable, but it’s okay, be as non-judgemental as possible.
    • 'Just take your time, there’s no rush. I know talking about this can be difficult'
  • Support them to get the help they need – keep what they have shared with you private, unless they’re at risk of hurting themselves or others. The person who has shared with you needs confidentiality, reassurance and patience. Ask how they need you to help, don’t assume.
    • 'I know it can be hard to talk about this – thanks for trusting me with it'
    • 'I want to help but I don’t want to interfere, so tell me when I am getting in the way'
  • If a person is feeling suicidal or at risk, the best way to know is to ask them – it won’t put ideas in their head but could make them feel heard.
    • 'Others in similar circumstances have thought about ending their life, have you had these thoughts?'
    • If they are in immediate danger, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance, or call or chat online to Lifeline (13 11 14) or Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467).