The world is currently in a perculiar position. We are amidst a global health epidemic, being asked to self isolate, practice social distancing and disengage from our normal lifestyle for an uncertain period of time. We are also being asked to continue to work, but possibly in a way that many of us are not used to. At times, it may feel like we are being asked the impossible: stay connected, focused and productive, remotely.
As a result, we have become more disconnected and remote than we used to be. Whilst technology is improving our lives in one sense, allowing us to work in ways we never thought we could and ‘connect’ with anyone from any part of the world, it is at the detriment of our relationships— they, in contrast, are suffering.
A recent report has revealed almost half of Australian workers feel lonely in the workplace and it’s impacting on productivity and wellbeing. This will likely be exacerbated with current global issues.
What’s the impact?
Social connection at work is more than just “being happy”. Social isolation has an impact on lifespan equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness and being disconnected also has profound impacts on workplaces including reduced productivity and profitability, increase in mistakes made at work, poorer safety, higher rates of sick leave and reduced engagement.
There are also significant impacts on inclusion, culture, mental health and relationships (at work and home). Lonely and disconnected workers are twice as likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months.
Research finding that almost half of Australian workers felt lonely, was released before the social restrictions enforced by the current epidemic. Until research is conducted on the large numbers of employees who are currently being asked to work from home each workday until further notice, we can only assume that this physical distancing will make the phenomenon of workplace loneliness worse.
Given the current global situation, what can we do?
It’s not all grim and there are steps organisations can take towards ensuring people remain connected— not just now, but into the future. It is a great time to look at how we are working and ensure we position ourselves for the future.
Perhaps we can consider the microsteps you can take today as a leader, and the longer-term thinking that will ensure this remains embedded into the workplace (be that ‘virtual’ or in an office).
While we’re all adjusting to a new normal and coping with social distancing regulations, our People and Wellbeing Lead, Katie Adams, suggests the following steps to help reduce loneliness experienced by your employees:
- Meaningful connections
Meaningful connection is a significant factor in reducing workplace loneliness. For many, this means going beyond a virtual check-in to discuss work matters, and acknowledging each other on a human level. We are going through change; we are turning on the news each day and being informed of a continued rise in global crisis. Nothing feels normal right now, but what is perfectly normal is experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions in response to this pandemic. Creating a space for your people to share what’s on their mind will help to build a meaningful connection while we experience increased isolation.
- Helping each other adapt
Most of us know of someone who will be embracing the tranquil of increased time at home, while others might be feeling deeply impacted by the reduced daily contact with co-workers, suppliers, and service providers that form part of our typical daily interactions. To reduce this impact, check in with each member of your team to understand what they need to reduce their sense of isolation. A weekly check-in might work for some, others might want to participate in virtual drinks or enjoy a daily chat before starting their workday. Once you know what each member of the team needs, you can even consider how those with similar needs might set up systems to support each other.
- Focus on the good, even if its small!
Finally, we must not forget to celebrate the wins along the way. Uncertainty is spreading faster than the coronavirus. Uncertainty leads to fear, which can trigger a fight or flight response. It’s hard to feel a sense of connection when you are experiencing innate responses to a perceived threat. While we can’t remove the threat, we can shift our attention to what is still within our control and celebrate our small wins. Consider how you can build this into the new routine you establish with your team. Perhaps it can be formalised in a weekly meeting, or a message to each individual when you notice they’ve done a great job. Regardless of what you do, be sure to incorporate it regularly.
Creating an inclusive culture, developing these strategies to include remote and flexible working while building an operating rhythm to ensure people feel part of the team is fundamental to seeing through this pandemic.
And while social restrictions will only be in place for so long, some of the routines we establish in our ‘new normal’ will stay with us for the long-term. You might find that at the end of this period, you have people in your team who are seeing increased productivity and enjoying the reduced time spent commuting. Regardless of what happens now, taking a long-term approach to reducing workplace loneliness will result in sustainable solutions to this important issue.
We need to quickly recognise this as an issue and start the conversation. Unsure how to do this? Get in touch!
Dr Lindsay McMillan OEM, Workplace Loneliness, a future that works, 2019 Reventure Ltd.