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Are we lonelier now than we were before the pandemic?

These past several years have been a testing time for many of us. We have found ourselves working more from home than ever in our careers, with the loss of social contact with our colleagues, relatives and friends.

If you think about it, one of the main drivers of job and life satisfaction is meaningful relationships, which usually comes top of the global happiness scales. 

Vincent Van Gogh wrote about how concentrating obsessively on painting to the exclusion of social relationships had a devastating impact on his health: “I put my heart and soul into my work, and lost my mind in the process”. 

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The pandemic has dramatically limited our social connectedness with our work colleagues and our extended networks of clients, suppliers, and others we met day-to-day in our central workplace routines pre-pandemic.

On the positive side, the pandemic also forced us back into our primary group, our partners, children and the immediate family, which, although at times difficult, has probably had some significant familial benefits, particularly in engaging and embedding men more in the family.

On balance though, I think that the past over two years has led to as heightened awareness of the importance of investing in and engaging in our social relationships, as we experienced more periods of personal loneliness than ever we did pre-pandemic—with a real loss of social contacts and connectedness.

Zoom meetings cannot not replace the proverbial ‘arm on your shoulder’ when things aren’t going well, or the face-to-face discussion with friends about personal issues and job worries - the ordinary things that make us human.

We’ve learned a great deal from this strange period in our lives, most importantly that people matter. Without them we are lonelier, feel less connected and valued, and have fewer social supporters to turn to in times of trauma and personal difficulties.

With hybrid working in full swing, our social connections are re-establishing themselves and the feeling of being isolated diminishing perhaps we will have better balance between work and our private lives in the future.


Cary Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health at the ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester; and co-author of The Healthy and The Remote Workplace Culture.


In support of Mental Health Awareness Week every day this week HR magazine will be publishing an article tackling the theme of loneliness in the workplace - find more tips on mental wellbeing here. See professional guidance from Mental Health UK here.