Week commencing 9th May was Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme for this year was loneliness.
Mental health has become increasingly important as the world faces its most stressful time for many decades. A global pandemic, a major war on the borders of Europe and predictions of a global recession constantly blasted over all forms of news are certainly not helping any of us to feel better.
Most of our clients fall into one of two categories. They are either in an industry that is much in demand, but faced by a talent shortage so everyone is working at the limit, or they have been badly affected by the current economy, supply chain difficulties, extra employer costs and are facing economic uncertainty.
But while many can understand those types of stress, the problem of loneliness, especially for those at work, creeps up insidiously. By very definition, those who are lonely do not speak to many people, certainly do not communicate effectively with them. So as an employer you may well be unaware of the feelings of these workers.
And while it is fairly obvious that working from home can create loneliness, it is often more difficult to spot those at the workplace who feel the same way.
The NHS has a very good section on mental health – Every Mind Matters – NHS
And an interesting article and quiz on loneliness which might also be useful – Loneliness – Every Mind Matters – NHS
What steps can employers take to help and support employees who feel lonely?
First of all, take the opportunity of Mental Health Awareness Week and raise the profile of the problem within your workforce. Open up clear dialogue between yourselves, your Line Managers and your staff to make sure the question gets asked of everybody – “Are you feeling lonely? Is there anything we can do to help?” Talking is always a good starting point.
By raising the issue with your Managers, they might also start to actively think about those employees who are showing signs of loneliness, and do something about it. This should not be a tick box exercise, but something they learn, and can be trained to look out for on a permanent basis.
Improve your communications with your workforce generally. Depending on the size of your organisation, a round robin email, or a more formal newsletter, can help everyone stay informed, be recognised and be included. Giving people something to talk about encourages them to talk.
Recognise who is most likely to be lonely. New starters, especially if they come from different backgrounds or different generations from others, can find it very lonely in the early days. Making sure they have a mentor who looks after them and helps assimilate them into the organisation, really helps.
As more and more return to the workplace, including them in social events or more formal meetings will also allow them to meet more people, make more connections.
Home workers clearly can go days or even weeks without any meaningful conversation with the rest of the organisation. This should not happen, and Management should recognise the importance of regular communications, and events with such individuals. Creating special projects on which a number of your home workers can collaborate can also be a way forward, encouraging them to communicate regularly and work together.
Finally, look to use outside resources as well. There are some fantastic online resources that can cost effectively take individuals through a programme, or you can use a more traditional organisation or professional to help monitor your employees.
The last couple of years have been a stressful time. And many will keep their concerns and their thoughts to themselves. Those with less confidence may be worried to share, thinking, probably wrongly, that it might jeopardise their future.
Having a healthy, involved and engaged workforce will be far more productive than having one that feels isolated, under stress and undervalued.
The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action, make sure that you know what you are doing, or call an expert for specific advice.