A modern workforce issue: connection and loneliness in the digital age

Loneliness is a growing problem in our modern workplace, despite the prevalence of digital technologies that allow us to stay in regular contact. Regardless of how many people we come into contact with every day, whether physically or via social media, email and other technology platforms, we can still feel alone.

Rather than the amount of contact we have, it’s our sense of belonging, feeling connected to and valued by, others that instead seems to keep loneliness at bay.

With the new year in full swing and everyone now back at work, it’s a good time to reflect on the quality of our connection with our co-workers. This seems especially relevant now as more people are working remotely from home, commuting longer distances for work and living alone. The result of these lifestyle changes may be that people are feeling more separated from their colleagues, family, friends and community. Prolonged experiences of loneliness can have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing, often involving feelings of social anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and depression.

A recent Lifeline survey found that 60 per cent of respondents often felt lonely with more than 80 per cent believing that the feeling of loneliness is on the increase in our society.

“We live in the most technologically connected age yet the rates of loneliness continue to rise,” explains Marcela Slepica, Director of Clinical Services at AccessEAP. “Chronic loneliness has a negative impact on both physical and mental health and this epidemic is hurting wellbeing and workplace performance.”

“Chronic exhaustion, burnout and an unsupportive workplace culture are some of the common causes of loneliness in the workplace so it’s important that workplaces are doing what they can to combat these issues.”

Marcela’s tips for combating workplace loneliness

Provide platforms for employees to develop inter-organisational networks, e.g. peer supervision, team meetings, toolbox talks, team projects, or working groups.

Encourage colleagues to consult with each other, and acknowledge collaborative efforts and achievements.

Acknowledge individual efforts publicly so that people feel seen, visible and like they belong within the organisation.

Put practices in place that will ensure employees are supported and heard if they are struggling or need assistance.

Promote opportunities for inclusiveness, e.g. whole team lunches so people who cannot stay back for drinks after work can still mingle with colleagues, or ensure that people working remotely are kept in the loop with regards to important communications.

Ensure managers are regularly checking in with their teams, and that they know their staff well enough to see or hear if someone is not okay.

Use technology to your advantage and make the most of facilities like video chat and teleconferencing with colleagues working remotely. It is difficult to build meaningful connections using only email and instant messaging.

Have anti-bullying protections in place to prevent technology being used to intentionally isolate people in the workplace, e.g. by excluding people from communications, or using email to publicly criticise or ostracise someone.

Create a work environment where employees feel able to ask for help if they are experiencing feelings of loneliness.

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