How to prevent loneliness, stress and isolation during the "new normal"
The loneliness downward spiral
During the COVID-19 pandemic and especially because of the lockdown period, more and more employees are feeling stressed and burnt out. Moreover, the shift to remote work has increased feelings of loneliness since there is no opportunity for socialization with colleagues and friends.
The resulting overall emotional isolation affects employees’ mental health, sense of connection to the organization and colleagues, and overall performance. We see that tension in the work atmosphere can increase dissatisfaction, lower employee engagement levels, and even lead to higher turnover. In fact, lonely co-workers tend to be less open to cooperate and work in teams as a result of decreased loyalty to the organization.
In sum, it is a downward spiral with real business impact.
An ever-present problem with business implications
Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that the combination of stress, loneliness, and isolation is much more complex and is not only the result of the migration to the home office routine. It has always existed wherever one finds a group structure- and it is a sizable problem.
From Cigna’s Loneliness and the Workplace 2020 U.S. Report, we see that three out of five Americans consider themselves lonely at their jobs and admit that their stress and fatigue impact their business performance. Almost 50% of respondents said that they constantly or often feel exhausted due to work.
These rates are frighteningly high - and 32% higher than 20 years ago.
Loneliness is different from depression, being alone, or feelings of solitude. It has more to do with a person’s quality of social relationships rather than their quantity.
- The Painful Cycle of Employee Loneliness, and How It Hurts Companies, Harvard Business Review, April 24, 2018
What can business leaders do?
Importantly, we find that loneliness and isolation are not simply the lonely employee’s problem; on a macro level, it affects performance levels.
On the micro-level, the problem influences how well teams function and how other colleagues view and relate to the employee. The issue of employee loneliness should be approached in a systematic way by business leaders.
To maintain high productivity levels, business leaders must focus on their employees’ well being with programs and initiatives that aim to decrease stress, tackle feelings of isolation, and battle loneliness overall.
A simple but effective approach is encouraging connectivity among employees. We know from comprehensive research that having friends at the workplace is essential to not only well-being but to workplace satisfaction and engagement.
Friendships matter: Gallup research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the number of effort employees expend in their job. In fact, those who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job. Gallups’ research proves that there is a strong connection between having strong bonds at work with the level of performance and efforts invested in job duties.
Did you know? Women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63%) than women who say otherwise (29%).
- SHRM, Dealing with Social Isolation, April 25, 2020
Digital engagement for employees by employees
So what can concerned human resource managers and business leaders do to nurture their employees’ mental health and establish “Corona-proof” workplace conditions that enhance productivity and increase the chance that the business will survive?
It’s simple: Enable workers to connect with each other digitally. Zoom meetings as substitutes for in-person, at-work coffee breaks or after work celebrations are a start, but managers should really be thinking about more authentic- and fun- ways to enhance their employee engagement programs and initiatives.
This is where Panion comes in, as we are convinced that the key to the healthy mental well-being of employees- and resulting in high employee engagement levels- is high connectivity among employees enabled by the organization but run by the employees.
After all, a sense of belonging and self-actualization is a basic human need.
We believe leaders can enable workers to connect with each other by encouraging them to share and pursue their interests and by empowering them to find activity partners.
This approach is a shift from the norm of educating employees or simply creating events to celebrate employee diversity, and it’s a way to strengthen workplace culture, too.
Online engagement works! With a dose of fun and a sense of discovery, employees begin forging more meaningful connections thereby overcoming “the dangerous mental health cocktail of loneliness, isolation, and stress.”
Download our whitepaper on how to increase employee engagement through greater connectivity.
Want to see how Panion works? We encourage you to book a demo here.