It’s Loneliness Awareness Week and this years’ focus is on reducing the stigma around loneliness. 60% of UK employees have felt lonely at work and research shows that loneliness can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 42% of us say that we don’t have a single close work colleague, which is quite alarming when the UK also work the longest hours in the EU.
As social creatures, connections with others are fundamental to our daily existence and something we must attend to as they give us meaning and purpose to our lives. We spend on average 8 hours a day with our colleagues, so how is it that we can still is feel lonely? One of the first steps to reducing the stigma is to raise awareness by talking about the causes of loneliness and ways to combat it. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can reduce loneliness in the workplace.
We rely on emails, LinkedIn and WhatsApp messages to communicate quickly throughout the day. All are highly convenient and allow for instant communication without the inconvenience of actually having to speak to someone. Emails and texts aren’t half as personable so we trick ourselves into thinking we’re getting the right amount of social interaction but really we can often still feel lonely with the lack of face-to-face interaction with others.
One face-to-face interaction is said to be more successful than 34 email exchanges. So next time you reach to send an email or instant message ask yourself first, could I walk over to their desk to ask the question? Could I call them instead? The more connected we become digitally, the further apart we grow emotionally so embrace face-to-face interaction when you can.
- Ask someone out for lunch
UK workers are reported to work on average 42 hours a week, the longest in the EU. We sacrifice lunch breaks and have a ‘head-down’ attitude to get the job done. For many of us though, having workplace friendships is integral to our day-to-day happiness. 68% of workers aged 16-24 describe workplace enjoyment as “having great colleagues I enjoy spending time with” and 61% of people believe that loneliness hinders their performance at work.
Try asking a colleague out for lunch with you – don’t wait for them to ask you. Having a close work companion has been proven to improve productivity, employee loyalty and motivation.
- Drinks run
Hot desking is now a common trait of office life, meaning it can be much harder to build relationships as you never know who you’ll be sitting with next. 59% of UK adults say that work is the most common cause of stress and poor work relationships can contribute to this.
Sometimes we have to give a little in order for people to open up to us so offer to make others a cup of tea when you next get up to make your own. As humans, we’re driven to form tighter bonds with people who we perceive to be “like us”, and so offering to make a drink for your office neighbour will open up the chance for conversation and increase the likelihood of forming a tighter bond.
Don’t be afraid to turn to your colleagues to ask for advice on a project that you’re working on. It’s a good way to open up conversation and even get insight from an individual with an outsider’s perspective. They may even wish to share with you the projects they’re working on to gain your feedback and insight.
Speaking to colleagues about projects is also a chance to complement one another. Everyone likes to receive a complement once in a while and giving others positive feedback about their work increases is one of the easiest ways to increase the likelihood of forming friendships.
- Social Activities
The combination of long hours, tight deadlines and pressurised environments can make it very appealing to slip off straight after work and head home, missing the Friday night office drinks. Saying yes once in a while is great way to meet people outside of your team, make yourself more visible and consequently more likely to be invited to future social happenings.
If the pub isn’t so much your thing, what about joining the company sports team? Find something else that interests you that involves spending time with other colleagues to build a better bond and it will also give you something to talk about when you return to the office.
Finally, stay persistent. Don’t be put off if your efforts to engage with your co-works aren’t reciprocated straight away. Some office cultures take time to change but if you’re consistent and open, then you’re sure to make a difference.