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The Rise of Workplace Loneliness

By Adam Shelverton
Assisstant Rehabilitation Manager

Workplace loneliness is on the rise, with just under half of us claiming we don’t have a close office ally.

Typically, we spend eight hours a day with our colleagues, exchange hundreds of emails each week and often know their families’ names and their eating habits yet, according to charity Relate, 42% of us say that we don’t have a single close friend at work.

So why do we care about loneliness at work?

Below we look at what loneliness is and what you and your employer can do to minimise this complex and unpleasant psychological issue and its impacts

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is a complex emotion and is typically characterised by having anxious feelings about a lack of communication/connection with other people in both the present and extending into the future. This means people can still be feeling lonely even when they are surrounded by people.

Loneliness is a subjective experience, if a person thinks they are lonely then they are, but everyone is different and some people need more social interaction or a different type of social interaction to others.


Why it’s important

For many of us workplace allegiances play a significant role in our day-to-day happiness.

For the majority of workers – regardless of industry and generation – camaraderie and social connections are key to their workplace satisfaction,” says Jenny Roper, deputy editor of HR magazine.

Having a close ally at work has been proven to improve productivity, employee loyalty, and work alliances can be a key factor in boosting career progression.

Someone who feels like they don’t fit in begins to doubt what they’re capable of achieving in their career, even beyond their current place of work. Feeling lonely leads us to isolate ourselves further. It prompts our brain’s self-preservation mechanism to kick in: we see ourselves as rejected by the group and instead of pushing us to be more sociable, our brain drives us to behave cautiously or defensively around others, which are not ingredients for high employee engagement, effective collaboration and ultimately successful outcomes.

What employees can do

The way people can increase their social networks and interactions is to become more visible and accessible. Going to dinner with colleagues once in a while, attending coffee mornings, work socials or engaging with companies wellbeing groups increases opportunities to create new social networks and connections and strengthen existing ones. If the invites aren’t rolling in, try asking someone to go for lunch or a coffee one on one, few people would say no and they’re more likely to think of you in the next group scenario.

Ultimately, humans are social animals with a highly developed (and often innate) understanding of relationships. It’s only natural to seek out connections with the people we spend so much of our lives with. However it is important also to recognise what type of interactions work for you.

What can employers do

Work can sometimes be a lonely place. Working from home or abroad for long periods, working in a small team or being off on maternity leave can lead to feelings of loneliness even if on a temporary basis.

It’s important employers give employees opportunities to socialise and increase their social networks at work. This could take many forms :

Allowing remote workers to hot desk in offices when they like

  • Keep in Touch days allow employees on maternity and long term sick to come into the office or meet their manager to maintain relationships and contact.
  • Using technology to connect individuals and teams in different locations to allow face time and interactions. Introduction of tools like video-conferencing, Link and Yammer also encourage more regular interaction with colleagues.
  • Social events can be a great way to create, strengthen or widen work colleagues and friends and can also help improve engagement.
  • Employee assistance programmes can be a great way for employees to anonymously access help for psychological and physical problems.Satisfaction and engagement questionnaires can be a good way for employers to assess their work force and be a good mechanism to identify and initiate changes

For information on QBE’s award-winning rehabilitation offering, click here