5 Ways To Avoid Loneliness When Working From Home
Led by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15 May) aims to get people talking more about mental health and how we can all enjoy better mental wellbeing. The theme for 2022 is loneliness.
What is the link between mental health and loneliness?
While loneliness is not a mental health problem in itself, it is well recognised that severe loneliness and poor mental health are closely interlinked and can make each other worse. This link is explored in a recent report by the Mental Health Foundation, which also talks about how being lonely can make us more likely to be apprehensive about social situations or pick up on negative social cues too readily. As a result, we become more withdrawn and disengaged, making it even harder to connect with others, thereby reinforcing our feelings of loneliness. Over time, chronic loneliness can also increase our risk of stress and of developing problems like anxiety and depression, as well as many physical health conditions.
How does loneliness affect work?
Loneliness can have a significant impact at work. Employees who are lonely are likely to find it harder to form and maintain close relationships with co-workers, which can cause them to feel more isolated from their teams. This in turn can lead to lower levels of self-esteem and confidence. It can also leave them feeling less engaged, less motivated and ultimately less productive. They also tend to take more time off sick. Research conducted by hiring platform Totaljobs in 2018 found that 31% of those surveyed regularly called in sick due to their loneliness, taking an average of five days off per year.
Workplace loneliness is much more common than you might think. According to a 2019 study by online job board CV Library, over half (53.6%) of Brits admitted to feeling lonely at work. Since the pandemic, with more and more people having now switched permanently to remote or hybrid working and missing the incidental day-to-day social interaction that comes from being physically ‘in’ the workplace, these figures are only likely to have increased.
So, what can you do to prevent loneliness and protect your mental health when working from home?
Here are our top 5 tips:
1. Find opportunities to regularly catch-up with your co-workers
Technology has allowed us greater flexibility in terms of where and how we work and enabled us to stay connected with our workplaces even when working from home. However, it cannot replace physical human contact. Indeed, the research by Totaljobs found that, when working remotely, 49% of the workers they surveyed missed having conversations with colleagues whom they’d previously spoken to regularly when in the office. Many also found it harder to reach out to their colleagues, with 36% worried about interrupting their work and 28% reporting that they struggled to bring up questions they usually wouldn’t hesitate to ask in a casual face-to-face situation.
But creating opportunities to catch up ‘in person’ is crucial for building strong connections with others. Being able to hear someone’s voice or see their face can help us to pick up on important social and emotional cues, such as body language and emotion, that are often missing in emails or messages. Next time you have a question or need some information from a colleague, try calling or starting a video chat with them instead. Or, if you have a co-worker you haven’t seen or spoken with for a while, try scheduling in a ‘virtual’ coffee break– chances are they’re just as much in need of a social chat as you and will welcome you reaching out to them.
2. Talk to your line manager about how you’re feeling
If you’re still having trouble connecting with your colleagues, don’t be afraid to talk to your line manager. The likelihood is that you won’t be the only one in your team experiencing these feelings. Your manager has a duty of care to look after your wellbeing, and letting them know about the problem means they may be able to do something to help. For example, they might look to delegate a project that requires you to collaborate regularly with other team members. They may also consider introducing a regular Monday morning team meeting to bring everyone together to talk about what you each got up to at the weekend and catch up about the work you all have planned for the week ahead.
3. Create a healthy work routine
When you’re working remotely, it can be easy to fall into the habit of working late and staying inside all day without seeing another person, particularly if you live alone. Try to keep to a set routine with clear start and finish times, and make sure that you schedule in regular breaks to get outdoors for a walk. If you can, try to find somewhere you can go to work outside of your home one or two days a week, whether it’s a café, a library or a dedicated co-working space. Simply getting a change of scene and being around the bustle of other people can help you to feel more connected to the world and less alone. If that’s not possible, try listening to a podcast or having talk radio on during the day while you work – having the sound of other peoples’ voices in the house can help to break the silence and those feelings of isolation.
4. Make time to invest in yourself and your personal relationships
Set aside protected time outside your working hours to do things you enjoy and see your friends and family. As well as helping you to maintain a better work-life balance, investing time in your hobbies and activities that you’re passionate about, be it through volunteering, attending a weekly group exercise class or signing up for an evening course, will provide opportunities for you to meet and connect with new people who share your interests. Making plans to spend regular quality time with loved ones and nurturing these personal relationships can also help to compensate for not seeing your colleagues every day and give you the social fix you need.
5. Develop a more positive mindset
When we’re feeling lonely and craving social interaction, we can tend to focus on the negatives and overthink the meaning of others’ actions. If you send a message to a colleague and they take a while to reply or come back with a very short response, try not to assume that they are ignoring you or that you’re bothering them. It is likely not related to anything you’ve done; they may simply have lots going on with their own work or in their homelife that they need to prioritise right now.
Changing how you view your situation and looking at all the positives that come from working remotely can also be helpful. For example, while you may no longer enjoy such close working relationships with your colleagues, the greater flexibility that working from home offers and the fact you’re not having to commute every day means you have extra time to spend with your family and friends. And without the distraction of the open plan office and water-cooler gossip, you may also find that you have more space to be creative and connect more with your work, both of which could help you to enhance your performance and derive greater satisfaction from your job.
Talking about loneliness is the best way of tackling it.
If you’re feeling lonely, and these feelings persist and are starting to really affect your mood or causing you to feel anxious or down, then make sure that you seek appropriate support, whether it’s through your GP, a charity group or your workplace Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
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