· Features

Hot topic: Employee loneliness

The BBC recently revealed that a third of people often feel lonely, and experts have warned of the potential mental and physical ill health consequences

Charities such as Mind have long said that holidays like Christmas can increase loneliness – with both older and young people likely to be most affected. So do employers have a role to play in tackling loneliness through encouraging workplace friendships, particularly around the festive season? Or is the social life of employees beyond their remit?

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, says:

"There can be a lot of social expectations at Christmas, and if you’re lonely it can highlight just how lonely you feel.

"It’s important to recognise that loneliness isn’t necessarily about being alone – some people live happily without much social contact while others might be very sociable. Loneliness isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but it can contribute to mental health problems like anxiety and depression if not addressed.

"Employers have a responsibility to look after the mental health of all their employees – and not just at Christmas. People should feel that they can talk about their mental health and get support. We know that many employers might want to support staff in this way but don’t know where to begin. Mind can offer plenty of support and information for employers."

Eugene Farrell, mental health lead for AXA PPP Healthcare, says:

"Friendship at work is an important part of working together and getting things done – and can boost engagement. As many of us spend more of our waking time at work than at home it’s only natural that friendships will develop. And if work friends become part of our social life they can help reduce loneliness and isolation.

"To help support mental health at work many employers are encouraging employees to talk openly together and check how each other is doing – something that’s much easier with someone you like and trust.

"However, managers need to be mindful to get the right balance between their workplace friendships and their responsibilities to their employer. They must also try to make sure they don’t let friendships inappropriately influence their business decisions.

"They should consider creating reasonable boundaries with the people they manage and safeguard themselves from being overburdened with work issues at inappropriate times or places."

Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic