The pandemic has demonstrated just how much friendships and connection mean to us. As well as being a deeply corrosive experience in itself, chronic loneliness affects our mental and physical health and even mortality. Tackling loneliness is complex, and needs a response from all parts of society – this is demonstrated by today’s ONS report ‘Coronavirus and contributors to subnational wellbeing: January to March 2021’, which includes an interactive map of personal happiness scores and factors linked to lower happiness by local authority.
Employers and businesses have a role to play in supporting the wellbeing of their employees and reducing loneliness. Our social connections at work – with peers, managers and customers – are one of the biggest overall drivers of job satisfaction. Good quality, meaningful connections are associated with better outcomes in terms of quality of work, higher wellbeing and greater engagement in work
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport commissioned the Campaign to End Loneliness to find out more. We brought together a network of organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors to look at how organisations can help tackle loneliness. The report Employers and Loneliness, collated the key findings from a series of events and contains examples of good practice and learning, and maps them onto what we know about loneliness and ways to alleviate it. There are five key themes in tackling loneliness at work:
- Culture and infrastructure: Identifying what really matters to employees, aligning with corporate values and embedding loneliness into other wellbeing and welfare activities.
- Management: The kinds of support and guidance which can help managers to identify and help the people working for them who are experiencing loneliness and the training that managers might need.
- People and networks. How people have used networks to tackle loneliness including whilst working remotely.
- Work and workplace design. How employers have tackled a dispersed workforce and the tools and systems which can promote visibility and connections.
- Wider role in the community. How some employers have sought to tackle loneliness beyond our immediate workforce
How does tackling workplace loneliness fit with strategies to improve staff wellbeing?
Employers and Loneliness is not a detailed ‘how to’ guide but the starting point of a wider conversation about what organisations can do to address loneliness and will be held as part of the work that an employer may already be doing, to improve the overall wellbeing of their staff. This is because relationships, along with our health, are the two greatest determinants of wellbeing in the workplace, these are followed by security and environment and then purpose. Several features of current working patterns make this particularly important. People change jobs more often than ever before and more people work part-time. Virtual teams and remote working, either all or some of the time, mean fewer face-to-face interactions and greater reliance on technology. And a sense of community and belonging in the workplace can be particularly important for people who have moved away for work and so might be further from their usual social network.
Employers and the UK economy will benefit if organisations make efforts to tackle loneliness at work, and we hope Employers and Loneliness will help employers and employees begin to look at simple, cost-effective ways they can help tackle loneliness.