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More than half of UK employees (60%) have felt lonely at work, according to a new study of 5,795 workers by mental health charity Mind and totaljobs, with nearly two-thirds feeling their workplace doesn’t do enough to combat office loneliness.
Despite the fact that we are surrounded by people for 8 hours a day, five days a week, a long list of research reveals we are sinking in a quagmire of crippling loneliness. As a result, 60% of workers have said they’ve felt loneliness at work, and 42% said they didn’t fit in with their colleagues. In fact. a 2017 survey by the Jo Cox Commission revealed nine million people in the UK are affected by it.
Are we surprised?
While the figures are definitely shocking, the results are hardly surprising. The office landscape as it stands doesn’t encourage interaction between colleagues – technology had replaced the need for human communication, with workers preferring instant messaging services like Slack, Skype or Google Hangout to chat, and heavier workloads (in part due to rising job losses) means people are working harder than ever and don’t necessarily have the time to socialise with the person sitting next to them. In fact, the survey revealed nearly half (44%) of workers cited pressure at work as the leading contributor towards their feelings of isolation. And when you also factor in flexible working hours, working from home and hot-desking, the fact that a 2014 survey by Relate showed 42% of Brits don’t have a single friend in the office doesn’t seem all that astounding – and this is coming from a country that has some of the longest working hours in Europe.
One of the best ways to make friends at work is usually the after-work drink, but with millennials drinking less alcohol than ever the post-work pint is dying. But this can often be integral to making new friends at work, particularly outside of your immediate desk buddies – and often, a little bit of networking with the those in the upper echelons of the company can improve your chances of moving up in the business.
But it can also just come down to something as simple as personality type – introverts will know what it’s like to be the quiet one in an office, particularly if many other employees are extroverts, and that can often lead to feelings of isolation, particularly if, as a result, you’re then not invited to after-work activities. It’s almost like being back at school, being picked last for the netball team.
How can we stop this from happening?
The government has already started making moves to remedy this epidemic since the results of the Jo Cox Commission came through, by introducing the world’s first Loneliness Minister, Tracey Crouch. But Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind, says it’s important to communicate with those people who could be susceptible to loneliness in the workplace, even if it’s just a small gesture: “Staying silent is one of the worst things people in difficulty can do. Opening up to a colleague about how they’re feeling can help them feel more relaxed about chatting to a manager. Even if they don’t want to speak about it then, you’ve let them know you care and will be there for them when the time is right.”
Martin Talbot, Group Marketing Director at Mind, adds that it should be the responsibility of HR and management to help enforce a system which makes it easier for employees to talk about their feelings of loneliness.
“[These] findings showcase the shocking reality for many workers across the country, with an overwhelming majority suffering the effects of loneliness in silence,” he said. “We would strongly encourage men and women, millennials and boomers, to confide in someone about their loneliness, whether inside or outside of work. Talking to someone can help you to feel less lonely.
“Equally, we would urge employers to be proactive in putting measures in place so those suffering from loneliness in the workplace, have a network of people and tools to support them.”
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