Being at work can be a lonely experience. As the nature of work continues to shift and change, here’s what you and your team should know about how you can tackle loneliness in the workplace — together.
Work has become very different for many of us over the last few years. With less job security in many industries, and increased emphasis on flexible and remote work, the social connections we once expected to make at work are becoming more difficult to form. As a result, many of us are feeling more isolated and lonely at work.
When someone is feeling lonely, it’s because their social needs are not being met by their current social relationships. Even if they’re surrounded by colleagues in a face-to-face work environment, people can still feel alone at work, — especially if they’re not getting the right kind of support.
We all experience loneliness at some point in our lives. One in four Australians say they feel lonely every week, and research by Relationships Australia has found nearly 30 per cent of us don’t feel part of a group of friends. We know that loneliness can seriously affect our physical and mental health but many of us feel awkward about discussing it with others, or even admitting it to ourselves.
Perhaps we feel no-one will understand or we believe that there is a stigma attached to loneliness, despite it being so common.. It’s sometimes hard to spot that a team member at work might be lonely. Have you ever suspected it and wanted to reach out, but didn’t quite know how to go about it?
Whether you’re a manager worried about your team, a concerned colleague, or feeling a little lonely yourself, here are three key things which can help.
Talk about loneliness
It can feel awkward to talk about feeling isolated at work, but being open about it can really help. Work towards identifying loneliness in your own team first, rather than across teams.
If you feel comfortable, you could say something to your manager, such as ‘I haven’t been feeling very connected to our team, and find working from home lonely sometimes’.
Work together to think of ways you can begin to feel more connected, such as scheduling coffee catch ups, virtually or in the office, with co-workers.
Reach out to co-workers
Notice team members who don’t join in on office video chats, tend to eat lunch alone when in the office, often work alone or are not very well known by others. Is there anything you and other colleagues can do to make those members feel more included? Perhaps you could initiate a lunch with them, or just make small talk when possible.
It’s also important to be considerate of circumstances that might make it difficult for staff to join in work social gatherings such as being a carer at home, having a disability, or English being their second language. Similarly, keep in mind those team members who work different shifts to others, contractors or casuals, or those who work a lot of overtime. What can the team do to make it easier for them to join in?
Be especially aware of people who are experiencing a recent loss, newcomers to Australia, those new to the workforce and those who are older than most other team members — these can all be triggers for loneliness in the workplace.
Adapt to changing circumstances
Connecting with colleagues will look different depending on whether you are working from home, in the office, or a combination of both. If you’re working from home, you’ll need to make use of virtual contact methods such as company instant messaging such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and video chats. It’s very easy for this conversation to always be based upon a shared goal such as a work question or a meeting, but try to also use these mediums to make casual conversation and show you are interested in your colleagues lives.
If your team is returning to the office, embrace small talk, as this can help your team gain a sense of connection. Make the most of face-to-face time by going for lunch or a walk to grab a coffee.
By talking about loneliness, reaching out to others and adapting to changing circumstances, we can begin to feel more of a sense of belonging. Loneliness may not disappear overnight, but we can take small steps in the right direction.
Relationships Australia NSW offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to support employees with their concerns. Ask your organisation if this is available to you.