Loneliness was perhaps most prevalent in the midst of the pandemic, according to the Mental Health Foundation, almost a quarter (24%) of UK adults felt lonely during Covid restrictions.
This time was particularly hard for people who lived alone, especially after a bereavement, for example, and for those who ordinarily rely on social events to meet others.
For workforces which might involve night shifts, working out in the field or in remote locations, working from home more than in an office or vice-versa, there are actions businesses can take to ensure all colleagues, no matter where or when they work, feel well-connected to, and supported by, their organisation.
Raising awareness of loneliness and taking action to prevent it within businesses must form part of a wider employee wellbeing approach – and there are a few key steps employers can consider taking to help achieve this.
Tackling employee loneliness:
Ask your employees how they’re feeling
It might sound simple but it’s really important to find ways to gauge employee wellbeing. Asking them via surveys through internal communications or at townhall events can be very effective.
At National Grid, for example, we’ve collated feedback from wellbeing questions that are part of wider employee surveys and we’ve also used the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index to better understand what employees think of existing wellbeing support. This feedback is key to informing wellbeing strategies and ensuring the resources we have in place bring real value to the entire workforce.
Collaborate to maximise resources from external organisations
In addition to leveraging resources like the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index, there are a number of external organisations that can provide advice and different tools which can help. Health apps that aim to make looking after your wellbeing easier is one example of taking a more proactive approach.
Some include taking part in challenges for both individuals and groups which can provide a different way to engage with and connect with colleagues during the working week – especially if they are working remotely or during the night.
For example, at National Grid, our employees have access to the Aviva wellbeing app which has a challenge function where you can set targets with colleagues who might be working in a different team, office, or part of the country.
It can be a really engaging way of both tackling loneliness and strengthening mental health and wellbeing by creating better habits and using the app to stay motivated.
Set up employee resource groups and networks
During the pandemic, our employee-led groups provided a crucial forum and support network for many people. They offered a way to talk to colleagues in similar circumstances, receive help and advice from individuals across the business and created a sense of community and togetherness during a time when we were all apart.
They’re also an important platform for highlighting issues that are impacting wellbeing, so that swift action can be taken. Collaborating with these groups are a great way for leaders to keep connected with their people in a post-Covid working world.
Refresh health and wellbeing services
It’s important to ensure services being offered to employees are refreshed and updated to reflect the ever-changing landscape of wellbeing risks and include new resources that can help combat these challenges. Wellbeing policies and measures mustn’t be a tick-box exercise but should be relevant and bring value to employees.
Mental health and wellbeing must be a priority all year
Health and wellbeing awareness weeks and months are helpful for refocusing minds and highlighting key issues that need to be addressed in the workplace.
However, safeguarding wellbeing is something that needs to be prioritised throughout the whole year so that all colleagues feel that they can speak up and get the support they need.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and different strategies will work for different businesses.
Whether it’s leveraging new resources and apps, revisiting how you engage with employees, or incorporating health topics into team meetings, townhalls, internal communications and internal events to provide more regular touch points, businesses have a vital role to play in ensuring no employee feels isolated or alone no matter where or when they work.
Will Serle is chief people officer at National Grid
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.