Are you lonely?
If you work in a thriving workplace and benefit from social clubs and events through work, you would be forgiven for wondering what on earth this is all about. How could anyone possibly be lonely at work? But research by Relate indicates that a huge 42% of the workforce have no friends at work. Loneliness at work is an increasing issue resulting from the option to work remotely combined with the rise of technology and technologically facilitated methods of communication like email and instant messaging services. Companies are moving more towards having hot desks and a flexible workforce, and audio-visual communication is taking the place of face to face interactions. Even if we are based with colleagues, workload increases mean that it is often easier to pop over a quick email than to get up and walk to a colleague’s desk, or pick up the phone and we can happily cross one thing off our ‘to do’ list having discharged responsibility accordingly.
Increasing opportunities to work from home and the move away from assigned desks means that we no longer create connection with the people we would, in the past, have sat next to each day. To further compound this, workdays are getting longer – we work some of the longest hours in Europe here in the UK – and we are travelling further to work, so often we simply don’t want to stop on afterward for a social drink before heading home or to the gym. The longer working day also means we have to be more creative in how we manage those things in our personal lives that need to be attended to and so employees are working flexible hours to do this, resulting in people coming and going at different times which can further disrupt our ability to connect with others.
Our increasingly global society also has an impact with more opportunities to travel for work, but this brings with it the same challenges as we spend more and more time on the move and on our own. This can also make it difficult to keep social commitments or to regularly attend clubs and activities where we might find the opportunity to connect. We are more connected than ever through social media and yet we are lonelier than ever too.
We thrive on social interaction and the brain actually grows in neural plasticity as a result of social interaction – it physically forms new connections in the brain. The resulting neuroplasticity aids in memory, cognition, emotional wellbeing and motivation and without this, the impact of loneliness on our mental health and wellbeing can be devastating . Furthermore, research by Relate suggests that “people who have… …supportive co-workers are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem and problems with eating and sleeping” and that “subjective wellbeing is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s social connections” .
We all feel a little lonely from time to time. It is when this sense of loneliness becomes chronic that the negative impacts start to manifest. At the psychological level chronic loneliness can leave us feeling depressed and result in low self-esteem. We lose creativity and resilience and can develop an increasingly negative outlook on the world. As a result we can find ourselves increasing isolated as we further withdraw from social interaction. Physiologically, persistent loneliness impacts our stress hormones, immune system function and cardiovascular function . So what can we do about it?
Tips for Tackling Loneliness
If you have become socially isolated and lonely, take it slowly to build your confidence gradually. Start with arranging to meet one person for a short period of time and work from there
Find new opportunities to connect – investigate a new hobby or interest that will get you out and about and meeting people with similar interests, that way you will have an instant connection through that common interest
Find something you enjoy doing over lunch at work so that you are gradually priming yourself with a little positivity each day – go for a walk (and invite a friend or colleague), listen to cheerful music, pop on a headset and watch a Ted Talk on something that interests you
Reach out to friends you have not spoken to for a while – don’t wait for them to contact you, and be bold about following up if you don’t hear back straight away. We all have busy lives and sometimes people just need an extra nudge!
Plan in social events in advance so that you have things to look forward to
If you think someone you work with might be lonely, reach out and invite them for a cuppa. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to reach out.