The office - a hive of activity, meetings, catch-ups around the water-cooler. It hasn’t been that way for many of us for so long now - will the workplace ever be the same again?
With many companies discussing a more hybrid way of working in future, it seems certain that our pre-Covid ways of working will not return in quite the same way.
And whilst some will thrive on this opportunity to remain working from home, or perhaps from an alternative location such as a co-working space, for others this separation from work colleagues may be a source of loneliness.
Loneliness is so widespread that we might even describe it as an epidemic. Yet we are often very reluctant to admit to being lonely, because often we tell ourselves it’s because we are doing something wrong, and we feel ashamed.
So how can you recognise the signs of loneliness in yourself, your colleagues, your employees? How do you open up a conversation about it - and how can you tackle it?
What is loneliness?
Humans are social animals, hard-wired to connect with other human beings. When we were living in tribes it was essential that we worked as a community, all working together to create one strong collective. Getting separated from this community would have been very dangerous indeed.
Loneliness is an important evolutionary mechanism. It is a signal our brain sends to let us know that something is wrong. It works much like hunger. If you hadn't eaten for a day or two, your brain would be sending signals which would be physically painful, and would lead you to fulfil that need by eating. Loneliness works in exactly the same way. It’s a feeling which is intended to make us realise that we’re lacking something, because social connection is one of the most important core needs we have.
How it makes us feel.
All too often we don’t recognise loneliness as a sign that we need to fulfil a basic need. We tell ourselves there must be something wrong with us. We may feel ashamed, and we may start to retreat and avoid people even more. We don’t admit to it, we don’t open up to friends, family, colleagues, or seek support.
In reality most of us will experience loneliness at some point, whether because of bereavement, a change of circumstances - or of course something unusual like a lockdown. It’s an epidemic, but thankfully this is one which, working together, we can make an impact on quickly.
What to do.
Here are some tips to help if you’re feeling lonely, or to use with your teams to empower them to deal with this emotion themselves.
• The most important step is to acknowledge that you’re feeling lonely. We can all work together to help everyone realise there’s no shame in feeling lonely - and in fact most of us will feel lonely at some point. Talking about it in the workplace will help highlight it as the epidemic it is.
• Encourage colleagues to sit with the emotions around loneliness and try to determine what triggers them. Working out the root cause can help you identify a solution.
• One of the best antidotes to feeling lonely is to focus on other people. Helping someone else, for example a neighbour with their shopping, can help change this.
• Practise gratitude. Focus your mind on what you do have, and start to regain control of your thoughts. This can be a small thing, and it helps if you do this practice each day, focusing on something - or a series of small things - specific to that day.
• Learn new skills. Joining a class or doing a course, even if online, can boost your self-confidence.
• Foster your current relationships. If you’re feeling lonely, the chances are your inner critic is telling you that everything about your life is bad. But if there are people in your life who make you feel good reach out to them and nurture that relationship.
• Do one unexpected act of kindness every day. Research shows that doing this can lead to higher levels of wellbeing and lower levels of loneliness.
• If you’re really struggling with loneliness and these tips aren’t making a difference, seek professional help, for example from your GP or your employee assistance programme if one is in place.
Beam Development & Training supports clients from large corporates to freelancers with wellbeing. We offer a range of workplace wellbeing packages, from fully-bespoke programmes delivered in-house, to our eLearning Wellbeing Library featuring a full range of on-demand workshops and courses - all featuring a range of learning styles.