Best Practices in HR

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Robyn Whalen
  September 28, 2018

How to Combat Loneliness in the Workplace

Is it possible to be surrounded by co-workers eight hours a day and still feel lonely? Unfortunately, the answer for many employees is “yes.” Loneliness is a more dangerous issue than it may sound. In fact, research found that loneliness and social isolation have the same effect on a person as 15 cigarettes a day when it comes to healthcare costs and outcomes.

According to research from TotalJobs, 35% of surveyed employees don’t have any strong relationships at work. This is important for employers to note because when employees feel lonely at work, they tend to feel disconnected from their job. That means that not only does their emotional wellbeing suffer, but their work performance suffers, too.

The good news is that workplace loneliness can be an easy fix. With a bit of help from management and a leap of faith from employees, no one has to feel alone and isolated at work. Keep on reading to learn more about the perks of positive work relationships and some tips on how to combat workplace loneliness. 

Perks of social connections in the workplace: 

Strong social connections and positive work relationships are great not only for the emotional wellbeing of employees, but for your business as well. Take a look at some of the top benefits of social connections in the workplace:

Increased job satisfaction. Research gathered by Harvard Business Review found that lonelier employees report less satisfaction with their jobs and are more likely to quit. In contrast, employees with strong social connections tend to feel happier with their jobs and company. And when employees have high levels of job satisfaction, they’re much more likely to stick around for the long haul.

Less stress. Workplace stress is a huge issue in today’s world. In fact, it’s one of the most common issues facing today’s workforce. Having a work friend and positive relationships with colleagues has been shown to greatly help reduce workplace stress. Laughing, smiling, and engaging in a casual conversation with colleagues are all little ways that employees can blow off some steam and feel less stressed.

Morale boost. According to the survey by TotalJobs mentioned previously, 70% of employers say friendships are good for morale and believe it’s positive for colleagues to see other team members in close relationships. Positive relationships help build a positive environment and company morale.

Increased work performance. While it might seem counterintuitive, having friends in the workplace can actually make employees more productive – research has even confirmed it! As long as these relationships remain appropriate and aren’t distracting during the workday, employees are more likely to feel motivated and productive when they have a work buddy around.

Improved emotional and mental health. It’s no shocker that having positive work relationships will help boost employees’ emotional and mental health. Office friendships offer a support system for employees. They feel like they have a safe place to discuss their emotions and feelings at work – rather than just letting these emotions build up over time.

How can employers support social connections and combat loneliness in the workplace?

While employers can’t force employees to be friends, employers have more control over social connections than they might think. Sometimes employees don’t become close with one another because they’re scared of being reprimanded for spending some time chatting or catching up. For others, forming relationships can be hard due to the office layout or setup – especially if employees feel isolated in their own office.

Below are a few ideas to help employers encourage social connections and positive relationships in the workplace:

Focus on culture. It’s extremely difficult for employees to form social connections with their colleagues without a positive corporate culture in place. A strong culture will naturally provide opportunities for social engagement and help employees connect with one another on a more human level. Focus on creating a stronger culture that encourages social connections and friendships in the workplace. 

Offer opportunities for social engagement. There are a variety of fun ways to bring employees together. Some of our favorite ideas include:

Pro tip: Remember that these types of activities work best if employees don’t feel “forced” to participate. While employees might need a little push in the beginning, never force unwilling employees to participate in team activities and outings – this will only bring down the rest of the group.

Create a social area. Does your office provide an area for employees to socialize? If not, you should really consider it! Create a designated space that employees can retreat to when they need to blow off some steam or want to connect with their peers. Provide comfortable seating and make sure the area you choose won’t disrupt other employees.

Practice open communication. Employees will be much more likely to get to know one another when your company encourages open communication. It can be difficult for shy employees to get to know colleagues when they feel scared to speak up in a meeting or share their ideas. Be sure that your employees understand their thoughts, opinions, and ideas are always welcomed.

Connect departments. Many employees that work in small departments might naturally feel isolated. It’s hard for them to get to know other employees when they never see or work with them. Be sure to connect departments as often as possible. Invite different departments to potlucks and other social events. And always be sure to introduce employees to other departments.

Social interaction is great for employee wellbeing and business. With a little bit of effort, social connections can easily be formed and employees can feel happier in no time. If you think loneliness is an issue at your office, speak up and try out some of the above tips! Just remember to set clear behavior expectations so that work relationships don’t become distracting or unhealthy.

Do you believe that social connections at work are good for your wellbeing? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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