Loneliness Awareness Week: Supporting staff in and out of the workplace
June 14, 2023
Feelings of loneliness, social or workplace anxiety and isolation are all serious issues affecting health and wellbeing. Whilst many people may experience loneliness from time to time, if left untreated or unresolved and without proper support, it can manifest itself over time creating increased extreme stress and mental and physical health issues for some. It’s undeniable, feeling lonely can impact people’s daily lives regardless of whether they’re at home or in the office. Having a support network in place can be a key mechanism to helping them cope to minimise the impact.
According to several reports, collectively, the wellbeing, health and work productivity cost associated with severe loneliness is approximately £9,900 per person per year* and the cost of loneliness to UK employers has been estimated to be £2.5 billion every year**.
Loneliness Awareness Week (12th – 18th of June 2023) aims to break down the stigma associated with loneliness and offers an opportunity to discuss how to recognise symptoms of loneliness, what support is available, the role of the employer, family members and other support networks, and how to help people create supportive communities through conversations and building social connections.
Here, Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK, shares several tips for helping employers recognise and support symptoms of loneliness which could be experienced by their employees throughout the year:
1. Stay connected
While hybrid working offers more flexibility and autonomy over an employee’s time in the office, employers could find it more difficult to spot symptoms of loneliness and isolation early and act to prevent a larger issue. Early intervention truly is key for wellbeing and having a clear benefits and general wellbeing approach ready to meet the highs and lows experienced by staff – whether they’re in or out the workplace – is essential. By the time an employee becomes ill enough to take their first sick day, the impact on both them and the business is already too great. Managers and Mental Health Leaders or Representatives should feel encouraged to regularly advertise informal check-in sessions with staff members, team bonding activities and create safe spaces for open communication. Open huddles, breakfast or lunch drop in events or social / volunteering events are also all great ways to encourage a greater connection.
2. Be conscious of triggers
Feelings of loneliness can be triggered by several different things. Anniversaries of losing loved ones, moving away from family or friends, starting a new job, or just feeling disconnected from colleagues and social circles. Managers should be conscious of this, and if they are made aware of specific dates/ periods of time when an employee might be feeling triggered, then it is important to factor this into their touchpoints. For example, more regular check ins around this time could be helpful.
Research from our The Last Word: Tackling the death and funeral planning taboo report found 23% of those who had experienced a bereavement recently didn’t turn to anyone during this difficult time for comfort and support – with 8% declining to even tell their employer. Signposting support available, particularly those that are 24/7 and outside of just the wording day can be helpful. An employee assistance programme (EAP) offers counselling support over the phone or face to face, and individuals may wish to talk in more detail and in confidence about the challenges they are facing. Employers providing ways to access the support can be a very tangible benefit for those suffering and can help them to take steps to improve their emotional and mental wellbeing.
3. Encourage awareness and open communication
Employers can use company touchpoints such as town halls, to remind employees what support is available to them and highlighting how to access it. This will ensure engagement is consistent throughout the year and employees feel there are a range of options to suit their personal needs. As an employer it is easy to look introspectively and focus solely on how a company can continue to implement as well as communicate the benefits and support available. However, what is happening outside of the workplace should be equally as important for employers to keep a happy and motivated workforce. For example, introducing seasonal or themed communications can really help to drip feed information to staff. Plus, having a central portal to host resources and details on how to access benefits are a very practical way to ensure staff know how to access the support as and when they need it. A case study on how a member of staff has benefitted from the support in place can be very powerful to engage staff too.
4. Signpost to additional support
Employers should offer 24/7 access to an EAP which is designed to help employees with their work, health, and wellbeing. These can provide a wealth of support tools which can provide invaluable 24/7 access to helplines for example and provide a highly valued lifeline outside of working hours and range from counselling to financial wellbeing support. After all, challenges don’t only happen 9-5pm, so its important staff know how and where to access content. Ongoing communication of how an EAP and any other support resources can help support and manage symptoms of loneliness or other negative feelings at work is key.
MetLife offers employees a virtual Wellbeing Hub that effectively engages employees through financial, mental, and physical wellbeing be that through to childcare support and confidential counselling or by supporting an employee through financial difficulty.
* Loneliness MONETISATION REPORT (publishing.service.gov.uk)
** Employers and loneliness – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)