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Overcoming Loneliness in the Workplace

By Vitality Coach Melissa Britton
National Work Life Balance awareness week is approaching in October 2019. During this week employers are encouraged to focus on the wellbeing of their employees along with their level of work-life balance, referring to how much time employees spend working in comparison to enjoying other factors of their life.

A poor work life balance has been found to contribute to a number of negative factors, from poor health to high levels of loneliness, particularly in the workplace. It has been suggested that due to long working days, higher workloads and longer commuting hours we are less willing to invest time in relationships with our colleagues at work, contributing to the loneliness epidemic.

Whilst many of us believe that loneliness is an issue impacting the elderly only, this is far from the case. According to a UK Government survey in 2017, the UK is the loneliest country in Europe. It appears that Britain’s workplace is one of the loneliest. Up to 60% of employees have outlined that they feel lonely at work1, with 42% of people having claimed that they don’t have a single friend at work2

Loneliness in the workplace has now become such an issue that 31% of workers regularly call in sick due to loneliness, it appears that loneliness also negatively impacts job satisfaction and productivity3. According to a report by the Co-Op and New Economics Foundation published in 2017, loneliness is costing UK employers a whopping £2.5 billion per year4.
However, loneliness isn’t just something which is impacting the UK economy, it’s also having a major impact on our health. Researchers have found that loneliness is just as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes per day5, with lonely people at an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease6.

Loneliness is also impacting our mental health. Lonely people are more likely to view social interactions in a negative way, as a result they experience higher levels of stress. They are also more likely to experience higher levels of depression and anxiety7. Lastly, lonely people are at a higher risk of engaging in behaviours which will be detrimental to their health, such as engaging in drug and alcohol abuse or eating fatty foods8.

So what can we do to try and improve loneliness levels in the workplace? See our tips below:
Arrange structured social events:
Whilst many organisations often organise social events these are often in unhealthy environments such as bars where already established friendship groups within the office come together, risking the potential for others to feel left out. Create a social event which encourages interaction and reduces the risk of others splitting in to groups. Some ideas could be a weekly exercise class where social interaction is encouraged, or monthly quiz nights where the groups are pre-decided by the organisers. 
Create a workspace that encourages social interaction: 
Think about the way in which your office is designed. If your office is divided with walls which discourage social interaction then staff will be less likely to talk to one another. Where possible create a large open space where people are able see each other from across their desk bays, this could increase the likelihood of social interaction and friendships forming. If it is not possible to create an open environment, create opportunities which will allow you to interact with others in the workplace e.g. arrange regular face to face meetings to discuss projects or suggest going for a team lunch once a week. 
Create opportunities for new staff members to interact: 
Being a new staff member, regardless of the size of the organisation can be incredibly daunting. Create opportunities for new staff members to interact and form friendships such as team building days which focus on learning about the organisation as well as talking to each other, or arrange social events solely for new staff members. 
Leave technology alone:
With the creation of email, text messaging and instant messenger it can be very easy to go through the day without speaking to single person. Where possible avoid using technology and ask your colleague your questions face to face, if this is not possible suggest a Skype meeting. Seeing the other person’s face and having the opportunity to speak to them could lift your mood if you are feeling isolated. 
Most workplaces are often looking for volunteers to support with additional roles, this could be covering reception during your lunch hour or helping to organise social events. Try volunteering whenever additional support is asked for, this will give you the opportunity to meet colleagues in other departments. 
Change the culture:
Is your workplace so quiet that even saying “good morning” is odd? Chances are if you are feeling isolated in the workplace you are not the only person feeling this way. Start changing the culture and make an effort to say “good morning” to your colleagues. It’s likely that they will soon start doing the same. 

3 The Relationship between Teachers' Job Satisfaction and Loneliness at the Workplace
Tabancali, Erkan. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, n66 p263-280 2016
5 Holt-Lunstad J, TB, Layton JB. 2010. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review.
6. Holwerda, T. J. Deeg, D., Beekman, A. van Tilburg, T.G., Stek, M.L., Jonker, C., and Schoevers, R. 2012. Research paper: Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset: results from the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (AMSTEL) Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry
7. Cacioppo JT, Hughes ME, Waite LJ, Hawkley LC, Thisted RA. 2006. Loneliness as a specific risk factor for depressive symptoms: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Psychology and Aging 21 (1) pp. 140-5