The number of adults in England who feel lonely has been on the rise since 2017, but the last year has unsurprisingly accelerated the increase. Between 2019 and 2020, loneliness in England jumped by 44% from 2.6 million people to 3.7 million as the population was forced to stay at home and socialising in professional and personal capacities became digital.
The increase in loneliness coincides with a general decline in wellbeing, which has been in motion since before the pandemic and exacerbated by lockdowns and restrictions. These red flags around general wellbeing in the population have led to calls to measure national progress in wellbeing via the gross domestic wellbeing (GDWe) index, rather than traditional metrics such as GDP.
For many people, working from home has brought about lifestyle changes that promote a better work-life balance meaning flexible, hybrid working looks like it now has a permanent place in society, but with this, there is the potential for employees to become isolated.
Following the lifting of restrictions and the return to the workplace, employers should consider the role that their office or central space has in combatting loneliness among employees and supporting their overall wellbeing.
As we move forwards, the workplace needs to become something more than simply a place to work as many people have discovered that they can effectively work from outside it. The workplace now needs to be a place for colleagues to be together, to collaborate and to socialise. Viewing it in this way and encouraging employees to think of the workplace as more than that will help to promote social interaction and minimise loneliness.
Rather than asking employees to come into work on specific days, employers could encourage them to come in for specific events. This could be work-related, for example, a team brainstorm, learning session or company catch up, or entirely social, perhaps a special lunch or post-work drinks.
By doing this, the workplace offers something extra that they don’t get at home. Offices will then move away from being a place for stress and towards being a place to interact with others, encouraging workers to spend less time alone.
Using the workplace as a social work hub will improve overall company culture, as employees have the opportunity to bond outside the boundaries of work. As well as keeping loneliness among colleagues to a minimum, promoting a social, friendly culture will improve engagement and job satisfaction.
Loneliness is a difficult feeling for people to process and can have an incredibly negative effect on overall mental health and wellbeing. Although restrictions have lifted and many people are socialising regularly again, the new hybrid working world may make it easy for people to isolate themselves from their colleagues, heightening feelings of loneliness. Putting measures in place to keep workforces cohesive and social is a great step to take in supporting employee wellbeing and combatting loneliness.