Tom Osborne, managing director of Hays Malaysia has warned that an overreliance on technology when communicating in the workplace could lead to employees feeling isolated. The issue is that modern offices mean professionals are more connected than ever before, however this is limiting the number of face-to-face interactions between colleagues, which is leading to many employees struggling with workplace loneliness.
“Considering the digital age has brought colleagues from across the world closer together, it’s ironic that it’s also making us feel more detached in the workplace,” says Osborne. “It’s important HR professionals and business leaders spot any members of their workforce that may be struggling with loneliness, otherwise the cost of not doing so can be great and could even affect the overall performance of the company through poor productivity and poor retention of key staff.”
Hays notes that a sense of loneliness and detachment can have a direct impact on performance, engagement, wellbeing and can even lead to an employee taking time off. It can also result in a higher turnover of staff if employees decide to seek a career elsewhere due to unhappiness. This can be an issue for businesses if they are suffering from skill shortages and retention of their talented staff is a key priority.
Working remotely is seen as a key benefit to many employees as it offers them flexibility, however, working from home can be a contributing factor to workers feeling lonely. Having a connection with a colleague at work can make a big difference to a person’s wellbeing.
Tom said; “Business leaders need to make sure remote workers visit the office on a regular basis, at least once a week. This will help to combat any feelings of isolation that they may experience from spending the majority of the day by themselves and only interacting with colleagues via a screen and over the phone. To professionals I would advise that they keep an eye on their colleagues, especially those that spend a great deal of time away from the office, often it’s one person that can make a difference.”
Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, says loneliness and feeling isolated isn’t a mental health problem but can be a contributing factor. “Feeling lonely can contribute to developing things like anxiety and depression, while people living with mental health problems are more likely to feel lonely.”
Hays highlights four ways to fight loneliness in the workplace
1. Concentrate on culture
Try to build a culture that focuses on inclusion for all colleagues in your organisation.
2. Encourage conversation
Ensure your people feel comfortable talking to each other or their line managers if they are struggling with feelings of loneliness.
3. Make them meet
Ensure that staff who work in an isolated location regularly get some time in the office working with their peers.
4. Start social
Establish social groups in your organisation and ensure staff who may feel lonely, such as remote workers, are invited and encouraged to attend.
Work can have a huge impact on mental health, Emma Mamo explains. “If, for example, there is a lack of internal communication or if staff are often required to work on their own, you can see why, when left unsupported, employees may experience a deterioration in their health and changes to their performance. That’s why it’s really important that employers take an active role in helping employees stay well and supporting staff when they need it – as well as looking after themselves.”