How to combat loneliness in remote workers

Loneliness is a growing problem and can be particularly acute among remote staff who are often working alone

The traditional nine to five working day is over. More people are instead taking advantage of remote work and gig economy opportunities – enjoying greater flexibility and a better work/life balance.

However, remote workers may go days without human connection and loneliness can creep in. More than nine million people in the UK (almost a fifth of the population) say they get lonely, according to the British Red Cross.

Loneliness affects workers of all ages and younger generations are particularly affected. A survey by YouGov revealed that 31% of 18- to 24-year-olds feel lonely often or all the time.

With working practices continuing to evolve, professional isolation is a growing risk. HR leaders need to find ways to engage a wide range of employees who are out on their own – whether that is by choice or by design. This is crucial to keep people happy and motivated. Here are some small changes that could make a big difference to the way your workforce feels.

Keep up the communications

Regular and improved communications can remind employees that they are part of something much bigger. Company announcements about flu jabs, events or employee celebrations can help to build connections. Making sure people understand they are part of a much wider supportive network.

Tailor rewards

Employees craving social interaction might appreciate everyday discounts to eat out, go to the cinema or head to a tourist attraction with friends or family. Recognition for great work could also come in the form of an experience – bringing workers together to have fun and enjoy each other's company.

Tackle the stigma

There is, unfortunately, still some stigma around loneliness, and remote workers may not want to put their hand up to say that is how they are feeling. The issue can bubble under the surface and lead to talented staff leaving the business. Normalising it can encourage more people to ask for help (or just a friendly catch-up) when they need it.

Establish an emergency line

Social isolation can have a negative impact on mental health. By offering easy access to an around-the-clock support line workers can get the right information when they need it most. They can talk openly about the way they feel and get free confidential advice on how to make a change.

Invest in the face to face

Take advantage of opportunities for in-person connections. This could include company away days or technology training to make sure people are fully connected to the business. Benefits providers should also offer to take groups of individuals through the employee services available to them, face to face, to help them see the value of the benefits on offer and how they can make the most of them.

Look after the whole person

A happier and more motivated workforce is good for business. But, ultimately, we are all human beings and want to take care of our people. No-one should have to suffer in silence.

The new-look workforce deserves better support for social wellbeing. Forward-looking employers are stepping up and putting human connection first.

Deborah Frost is chief executive of Personal Group