The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and work. Many employees are still working from home or in a hybrid system. While working remotely comes with advantages, there are also many drawbacks. One of the most significant challenges of hybrid and remote workers is dealing with loneliness.
In this article, we’ll explore the negative effects of loneliness in the workplace. And also offer some tips to help managers and team leaders implement strategies to combat the loneliness of remote workers.
What is loneliness in the workplace?
Loneliness is defined as the feeling of being isolated from others. In the workplace, loneliness is when an employee feels disconnected from their team and their company. It carries a negative impact on their performance and may affect their health.
Loneliness is associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, such as:
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Bigger stress hormone levels
It’s not just an issue for people who work alone. Studies show that even in social settings, those who are less connected to the group are more likely to feel lonely. That’s why remote workers feel their loneliness keenly. Because they are less connected to other people and resources at work.
The impact of loneliness on the workplace environment
Workplace loneliness has a negative impact on work performance. It can drastically decrease productivity and collaboration among employees.
Loneliness can also feed into stress, which can lead to similar issues such as burnout and depression. It may also affect an employee’s physical and mental health. This further leads to decreased performance and productivity in the workplace.
According to the Harvard Business Review, people who feel lonely are more likely to make poorer decisions, take more risks, and experience more stress.
Lonely workers are more likely to take more sick days and be absent from work. They also appear to engage in counterproductive behavior such as absence without permission, tardiness, and mistake-making. Being lonely can even lead to job quitting.
How to combat the loneliness of remote workers
As a manager or team leader, it is in your power to set in place mechanisms that will alleviate or prevent loneliness from affecting your remote employees. Here are some effective methods.
1. Organize social activities in the office
There are many ways to encourage your employees to be sociable at work. Socializing in the office can help improve employee morale and create a more open work environment. Encourage morning coffee meetings, shared lunches, or after-work drinks. They will enable employees to better connect with coworkers, share work experiences, and bond with each other.
If your team works exclusively remotely and is prevented from meeting by geographical constraints, don’t give up. You should still organize informal gatherings online. Employees who work exclusively remotely are the most at risk of being affected by loneliness. Make sure you don’t drop the ball and check in regularly to make them feel valued.
2. Peer buddy systems
Typically, younger and less experienced employees receive less peer support. Thus, they are at a very high risk of feeling lonely and alienated. Setting a peer buddy system in place can be a great way to help them.
This could be especially beneficial for new employees. Assign them a mentor to introduce them to others and show them the ropes, in addition to supporting their work. This would not only help these at-risk workers but also make the workplace a more enjoyable place for everyone.
3. Avoid micro-managing and over-monitoring
Many managers and team leaders feel compelled to closely monitor the activity and performance of remote workers. However, that can increase the amount of stress and make your employees feel not trusted.
Give your people a chance to do things their way, without feeling under the microscope. Be ready to provide constructive feedback and gently steer them in the right direction.
4. Be flexible
The ability to be at the office at the same time as other colleagues is an important factor in gaining access to social and professional support. This means that workers should be allowed to choose which days they are in the office and given the opportunity to arrange meetings around their personal schedules.
Autonomy is key to gaining adequate social support, which improves both personal and professional well-being.
5. Exercise empathy
Being treated with care and empathy goes a long way to make employees feel less lonely and undervalued. In order to increase empathy among coworkers, some companies are holding empathy workshops, during which participants are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings. Others simply show it.
Researchers at the University of Michigan and Notre Dame found that team members feel more connected after participating in these exercises.
6. Encourage and reward interpersonal relationships
In order to create a more positive and productive work environment, it is important for businesses to both encourage and reward employees for reaching out to others. This could mean something as simple as noticing and praising someone for making the first move, or for being supportive when others reach out.
Rewards such as bonuses and promotions can be crucial in reinforcing the importance of relationship-building activities among employees and ensuring their satisfaction with their jobs. According to this report, companies that provided this kind of rewards saw higher levels of job satisfaction and happiness from their employees.
Take action ASAP
Employee isolation and disconnection have been on the rise in recent years. The pandemic has only made things worse. To prevent it from making even more damage, we need to rethink the way we facilitate relationships at work.
The current period of transition is the ideal moment to put in place (some of) the strategies presented above to help employees feel less lonely, more connected, and more engaged.