Ahead of Loneliness Awareness Week (14 – 18 June), Naomi Thompson, Head of Organisational Development at Benenden Health, explains how employers can support team members struggling with loneliness as we slowly move away from COVID-19 restrictions.
As lockdown eases and the national vaccine rollout continues successfully, many employers are working cautiously towards a partial or full reopening of the workplace. As they do so, it is vital that these organisations can support the wellbeing of their employees and consider how to do this in a way that works best for every member of the team.
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, many individuals have been experiencing their own feelings of loneliness, whether from shielding, being alone in the house whilst others continued to work, or sadly they may have been separated from loved ones through illness and the requirement of medical attention. As social restrictions ease, many individuals may still feel anxious about returning to ‘normal’ life and may not yet feel ready to return to the workplace.
There are, however, ways that employers can support their workers to help alleviate such feelings of loneliness and show their support as we cautiously move towards something more akin to reality.
Maintain honest and open communication about the business
As plans are put in place for a potential return to the office, it is important to maintain regular and honest communication with employees about what is going to happen. Keeping employees informed may help to reduce anxieties and ensure that the workforce has the opportunity to voice any concerns they may have.
Employers should be careful not to assume that it will only be certain employees who are more likely to struggle with loneliness, so it is vital that all employees receive the same support and communication.
Over the last year, many businesses have had employees on furlough, so it is also important to include them in communications where possible, even if they may not be returning right away. This can help them avoid feelings of isolation and uncertainty about their future, as well as helping to ease anxiety and loneliness.
Remain flexible and consider what’s worked well
When considering the return to the office, it is crucial to consider what has worked well over the past year and what you could potentially adopt into future ways of working. Whilst many people have been happy working from home for the past year, in the long-term this way of working might become more of an issue. In time, some employees may decide that working remotely isn’t for them, with loneliness increasingly becoming a factor and as such, it is important that employers continue to communicate with those working remotely and regularly review their operations.
It may also be beneficial to encourage individuals to continue working more flexibly moving forward, due to the positive impact this can have on work-life balance, allowing people’s social lives to thrive outside of work and helping reduce feelings of loneliness.
Create a new social calendar that caters for everyone
Many people that have suffered with loneliness over the past year may have found themselves really missing the social contact and interaction with others. Now restrictions are easing it may be a good time to create a new social calendar, to encourage your workforce to get together for a catch up.
To help support all employees, it may be beneficial to arrange a mixture of face-to-face and virtual activities – allowing those that may not yet feel comfortable in group situations to still be involved. This can help boost employee morale, support those that have struggled with reduced social contact and allow for some well-deserved team fun too
Encourage employees to focus on their wellbeing
During times when social calls are not booked in, it is important that employers support employees by promoting positive wellbeing across the business. This could be through recommending and joining online exercise classes, book clubs or mindfulness sessions. These kinds of activity will not only help to ensure the workforce takes time to care for their mental health and wellbeing, but it will also encourage the team to engage and communicate with each other, helping to offset feelings of loneliness.
For those in need of further support, providing employees with access to a dedicated health and wellbeing plan can be a responsible and effective way of reducing stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Benenden Health has a 24/7 mental health helpline for members who may need someone to talk to in times of uncertainty or distress.
For more help and support from Benenden Health, please visit its dedicated COVID-19 health and wellbeing hub.