Tackling loneliness in your workforce Here are some practical pointers for tackling loneliness in your workforce: Use this Mental Health Awareness week as an opportunity to start the conversation about loneliness, if you haven’t already. Some companies, for example, are running webinars or lunch-and-learns. If you have team check-ins, why not begin one during #MHAW22, asking each employee to suggest possible improvements to communication amongst their teams. Maybe introduce discussions around how the workplace could feel more inclusive and communicative, how working practices could improve to enable a greater feeling of belonging. Loneliness is about a lack of meaningful connection, rather than a lack of people around. Companies can create opportunities for meaningful connection, which is when an individual feels seen and heard as themselves. A first step is creating awareness and openness, encouraging natural, non-judgemental conversations - often, a conversation alone might be enough. Use the conversation to signpost employees to relevant resources to support individuals. Employees may not want to talk about their situation especially if they are caring for someone with a serious mental illness but they may want to research it, once you’ve started the conversation, on their own. It may be that you already have relevant resources available in the workplace. For example CAUSE information leaflets. But make sure the options are broad and comprehensive including helplines and resources representing the diversity of your company. The most important thing to remember when having a conversation about loneliness at work is to listen. Actively listening is a skill. Ask questions that enable someone to speak and know that your role is not to fix. Acquiring this skill takes time, but this can be achieved if an organisation accepts this as a process of change, investing time and specialist expertise to ensure confidence is built alongside knowledge. Realise that these types of conversations, that are connective and combat loneliness, won’t necessarily happen naturally in your workforce. It’s not as simple as getting employees in a room or on a Zoom and expecting them to happen. You will need to create the right tone, as an employer, and, probably, facilitate conversations, certainly at the beginning. In an ideal world, we would be able to have these conversations naturally with colleagues and managers, but there are many reason why we might find this hard. Sometimes employees need a nudge from employers to open up in a more personal, emotional way at work and to understand that they won’t be judged for this. Also they may need to understand that this is the way to forge more meaningful relationships at work. These conversations aren’t meant to be comfortable. Don’t be put off if the conversation about loneliness feels uncomfortable. It’s not that the conversation feels comfortable that’s important – it’s that it’s happening. There is no one size fits all when it comes to tackling loneliness and what works for one employee, may not work for another. Employees can benefit greatly from hearing others’ honest experiences of loneliness, especially leaders, and what works for them. ‘You get to realise that you’re not alone and that feeling is just part of life,’ says Teodora Chatzisarros, senior new business manager and mental health and wellbeing strategy leader, Amazon Fashion. Chatzisarros believes when people have the feeling of loneliness they can learn how to question why they have been triggered and to ‘bring awareness to why they might be feeling this way’. We can, she says, learn to reprogramme ourselves so that we feel loved, accepted and like we belong. Create opportunities for employees to explore their passions and connect with other employees that share these passions. Tech giants are famously good at this, encouraging employees to have ‘pet projects’. Recognise there’s only so much you can do as an employer. Ultimately, as with all aspects of wellbeing, employees have to take personal responsibility for their loneliness and do something about it. The best you can do is raise awareness of the issue and point to resources and inspiration. Don’t make assumptions about which employees might be lonely. Research shows that being extrovert or part of a team don’t necessarily guard against loneliness. Research also shows it’s the younger generations, not the older generations, who are feeling the loneliness pinch the most. With the demise of community spaces in society due to our increasingly technology-driven modern lives (think the closure of libraries, automation of check outs, etc) there is a huge opportunity for corporates to plug this gap. Companies can create spaces and times in the collective diary where employees can come together for meaningful connection, which is the antidote to loneliness.