The government is urging employers to make loneliness awareness a part of their wider employee wellbeing programmes, warning that workplaces can trigger or exacerbate feelings of isolation.
A report, Employers and loneliness, commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said that while jobs and work environments created opportunities for individuals to connect, employers needed to be aware of ways that loneliness could develop or be made worse at work.
It also said the coronavirus crisis had created a “huge shift” in how and where people work, with the wholesale move to virtual and remote working reducing opportunities for shared activities and social connections.
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“It makes sense for employers to address loneliness and relationships within their wider work on wellbeing in the workplace,” the report said. “By tackling loneliness and supporting employees to build social connections, employers can ensure a more productive and resilient workforce.
“Workplaces where employees have a strong sense of organisational identity are more able to withstand the effects of recession and maintain performance.”
The report, which includes best practice for tackling loneliness in the workplace, was written by the Campaign to End Loneliness for the government’s Tackling Loneliness Network of employers.
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Robin Hewings, the charity’s programme director for the campaign, said loneliness could have a “devastating impact” on mental and physical health. “Loneliness impacts on our whole lives, including our wellbeing at work,” he said.
“Employers and the UK economy pay a price when a lack of social connection and loneliness at work means employees show less commitment and productivity and greater absenteeism and staff turnover.”
According to a 2017 Co-op survey cited by the report, loneliness costs UK employers an estimated £2.5bn a year, the majority of which is down to staff turnover (£1.6bn or 64 per cent) and lower productivity (£665m or 26 per cent).
The report said there were three main ways that loneliness manifested in the workplace: feelings of loneliness unrelated to work can be brought into the workplace; changes in the workplace such as the transition to a new role or a return from absences such as maternity leave can trigger loneliness; or excess stress from work can spilling into other areas of life creating feelings of loneliness.
It recommended employers emphasise cooperation and connectedness as part of their company values, proactively ask employees about loneliness through surveys, make loneliness part of managers’ responsibilities and facilitate staff networks to help tackle the problem.