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Does remote working make us feel lonelier?

Could your employees be struggling with their mental wellbeing while working remotely?

While there are times when we may feel we are managing remote working reasonably well, remote working coupled with social distancing has made many of those working from home feel physically isolated and emotionally disconnected. There’s also the issue of those heading back to offices that look and feel very different to the ones they left. So, how can you as an employer offer that extra level of support?

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How might loneliness be impacting your employees working from home?

Loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of age, health, or background. Research carried out by Benenden Health found that a third of people have seen their mental wellbeing worsen during the pandemic, highlighting the importance of looking after ourselves, and finding ways to manage feelings of angst and loneliness. Remember that we do not necessarily have to be alone to feel lonely.

Loneliness and social isolation are not the same. Loneliness arises from a disconnect between the quantity and quality of our relationships. Social isolation, on the other hand, describes a lack of human interaction and it isn’t necessarily negative. You might feel lonely in a crowded room as the old cliché goes or, conversely, feel totally satisfied being alone.

Unwanted and prolonged loneliness can make us disengage even when we get the chance to interact. Finding ways to regularly connect with those who are working from home is important. Whilst the recent changes to lockdown have improved the situation, in terms of the level of contact we are now able to have with loved ones, it’s not one size fits all and the cumulative effect of weeks spent at home is inevitably taking its toll. With many people still working from home, others still required to shield due to underlying health conditions and many children unable to return to school until September, the lack of social interaction and feelings of isolation are affecting all members of the household.

Short term feelings of loneliness shouldn’t have an adverse effect on an individual, however long-term loneliness can increase the risk of certain mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, stress, and even dementia. There’s also a physical health implication, with an increased risk of heart disease. With the prospect of remote working continuing to some degree for the foreseeable future, and perhaps beyond the pandemic, it’s in our collective best interests as employers to tackle loneliness in an open and supportive way.

Returning to the office environment

While we’re focusing here on the impact of loneliness on those working from home, it’s important to remember those returning to the office as well. While some employees are starting to re-enter the office environment, it will feel totally different to the one they left. Smaller teams, distanced seating arrangements and the use of PPE can all take a toll on the comfort and mental wellbeing of your team.

Finding ways to regularly connect with those returning to the office, in their new environment, is as important as internal comms to those working from home. As your employees re-enter the office, you should develop a comprehensive internal comms plan to welcome them back in. One thing that can help make people feel more settled is to make sure everyone knows who will be back in the office and where everyone will be based – it will help to make things feel less unfamiliar. You could even start an in-office group over a platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Colleagues might not be able to catch up in the corridors or over a cup of coffee as easily, but they can still connect virtually (or in small, socially distanced groups, where possible).

Tips for managing feelings of loneliness

Share these top tips with your team to help them tackle feelings of loneliness. Whilst these tips are primarily adapted for those working from home, they can help any employee dealing with loneliness. Special attention should be given to those who are returning to a very different way of working within the office.

1. Stay in touch

Whether through regular video calls, a group chat or even sending cards, it is important to keep in touch. Those who usually have a bustling social calendar, or work in a busy open-plan office, may be struggling. Adhere to a typical work schedule and social routine wherever possible; and remember catching up doesn’t always have to be about work. Try to encourage the team to use their camera when on video calls so that colleagues can achieve more face-to-face interactions.

2. Plan your days

Getting up and dressed at the normal time will help you mentally prepare for a productive day. Having a plan for each day stops us dwelling on negative feelings. Tackling ‘to-do’ lists provides structure and a sense of achievement. What you eat is very important, too. Creating healthy, weekly menus will ensure you eat well and that your food shopping trips are kept to a minimum.

3. Do something meaningful

Start an online course that allows you to learn a new skill and talk to people about something other than the pandemic or work. Why not take up a new hobby? You might consider helping someone vulnerable in your social group, family circle or in the community. Helping others provides an enormous feeling of self-worth and purpose. Simply making contact could make a big difference.

4. Focus on wellbeing

Regularly do something that enables you to relax and feel more positive. Taking time out to appreciate your surroundings can help to reduce stress and ease feelings of worry and anxiety. Limit your exposure to the news, perhaps electing to watch just one bulletin a day. If you crave social contact, ring a family member, colleague, or friend. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try to spend time doing things that you enjoy. Share our leaflets on supporting physical and mental wellbeing with your employees.

5. Seek support

A Red Cross survey of 1,000 people found that almost 60 per cent of respondents admitted they didn’t feel confident talking about loneliness. A third said they would never admit to feeling lonely to anyone. Creating a culture of openness can encourage employees to come forward with any concerns. Commit to regular check-ins with individuals so you can acknowledge and address stresses and triggers before they become overwhelming. A problem shared is a problem halved. Make sure your team is aware of any employee wellbeing services that your organisation has available to them and how they can access them. If you feel isolated, you must seek the support that you need too, via a colleague, friend or relative.

Benenden Health has produced a coronavirus hub, with more tips and information about how to stay healthy as a business and individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak. It also outlines any changes or enhancements to our services in response to the global pandemic.

Benenden Health has produced a coronavirus hub, with more tips and information about how to stay healthy as a business and individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak. It also outlines any changes or enhancements to our services in response to the global pandemic.

Visit the COVID-19 hub for more information.

Find out how Benenden Healthcare for Business could support your employees

Got a question and want to know more? Call us FREE on 0800 414 8179.