Workplace loneliness now costs the UK economy £2.5 billion pounds every year. A new report from the Co-op and the Campaign To End Loneliness reveals the huge financial costs facing employers around this problem. The report identified four main contributing factors:
Sickness associated with employee ill health around loneliness = £20 million.
Lost employee days working caring for someone suffering from the ill health of loneliness = £200 million.
Reduced productivity costs related to lower wellbeing from loneliness = £665 million
Costs associated with increased voluntary staff ‘turnover’ = £1.62 billion.
Last month the Government brought out their much-awaited strategy on tackling loneliness. Prime Minister Theresa May talked about “supporting the introduction of “business champions who will tackle loneliness in the workplace.” Become a business champion and start addressing loneliness among lone workers in your industry.
Lone doesn’t always mean lonely
By the very nature of their job roles, lone workers face a greater risk of experiencing loneliness. But it’s important to make the distinction between being alone and feeling lonely. Some people like the autonomy and freedom of working alone. They choose to be alone. In contrast, loneliness is a completely different feeling. A person feels isolated and unhappy because they are lacking the right amount of positive social interactions.
Building a healthy workforce
People who feel lonely are more likely to smoke and drink more and to eat a bad diet. If you are lonely, you are more likely to withdraw from life and stay at home. All this can have a cumulative effect on a person’s health. No wonder loneliness is considered to be as damaging as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad 2015)
It can be a delicate topic bringing up an employee’s health. One way of addressing loneliness among lone workers is to encourage a wellbeing culture. How about introducing free or subsidised healthy food, or holding wellbeing days? As well as working together, why not work out together? Encourage face-to-face interaction by starting a weekly running, walking or 5-a-side football club. Become a business champion by putting your employees’ wellbeing first.
Social lives, not social media
Technology is a lifeline for many lone workers, especially when it comes to safeguarding them at work. But as vital as protecting workers is, so is having face-to-face contact. In such a tech-driven world, how do you start addressing loneliness in lone working?
Groups on Facebook or WhatsApp can be a great way for people who are physically isolated to stay in touch. But it shouldn’t become the norm. How about appointing a social secretary at work? They could put on regular social events or team bonding events. Make your workplace as friendly and appealing as possible. If people like going to work, they’re more likely to stay. Or you could start a ‘buddy’ scheme. Pair up lone workers to check in with each other, both on and off the job.
Lose the stigma
Another way of addressing loneliness in lone working is encouraging employees to talk about it. “It is completely normal to feel lonely,” says Amy Perrin, founder of the UK loneliness charity, The Marmalade Trust. “Most people will feel lonely at some point in their life.” As an employer, invest in training programmes for line managers to recognise signs of loneliness in lone workers. Loneliness doesn’t always start as a mental health issue but left unchecked it can develop into one.
Provide professional support
What about the employees who are so chronically lonely they have been signed off work? Then there are those taking time off to care for others. Make sure your HR team can actively signpost employees to the relevant resources. You could also employ a company counsellor. ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ is a scheme campaigners want rolled out nationwide. Under this approach, there is a trained ‘mental first aider’ in every workplace.
Addressing loneliness among lone workers
Many people have difficult lives outside work, so it’s vital they feel supported in their workplace. It is also important to recognise that loneliness can start on the job and not outside of it. Does an employee feel isolated by the demands of their job? Do they feel they have someone to talk to? Let’s start addressing loneliness in lone working by making employees feel part of the team.
Find out more about loneliness at Marmalade Trust
Find out more about mental health first aiders in the workplace Mental Health First Aid
Find out more about the Campaign to End Loneliness
Contact Lone Worker Solutions and the Safe Hub team today
Post by George Stavrinidis
George is Chief Executive Officer of Lone Worker Solutions (LWS). He believes passionately that everyone should be protected and supported at work. George supports LWS clients to make sure they enjoy the most effective relationship with the team and maximise the effectiveness of their deployment of Safe Hub.
About Lone Worker Solutions
At Lone Worker Solutions, it’s our business to protect employees, managers and shareholders from the risks associated with working alone. This includes the potential hazards faced by staff who work by themselves, remotely, or out-of-sight or earshot of colleagues. When it comes to safety we don't believe in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach; instead, we tailor our solution to each organisation's exact needs.