How to overcome loneliness in the workplace

Nebel Crowhurst, CPO at Reward Gateway, on a problem that goes way beyond Gen Z
Nebel Crowhurst

We are in the middle of a loneliness crisis. ‘Anti-social working’ is the latest trend to sweep Gen Z, showcasing a wave of employee disengagement. Together with ongoing work-from-home (WFH) issues, the way we balance work and life continues to change and flex.

And It’s not just Gen Z. A staggering two-thirds of us lack a sense of connection and belonging at work, with a quarter often feeling lonely. Employees want to be seen and valued as human beings, to feel supported and appreciated in a way that goes far beyond providing staff with a discounted gym membership.  

With disillusionment and loneliness at an all-time high, leaders must take action to embed appreciation into their company culture and find innovative ways to address the disconnection dilemma facing their workplaces.

Loneliness impacts business

Employees without a social network at work are more prone to burnout and less likely to be productive. This presents a major productivity and well-being challenge, as over a third of employees lack a social community or support network at work.

There are three things leaders must be doing to enhance employee engagement within their workforce. First, employers must connect employees to their contributions to the company. By sharing organisational and personal goals, employees can see the impact of their efforts directly and feel more bonded to their company and colleagues.

Secondly, they must foster interpersonal connections. Friends at work boost productivity, collaboration, and creativity. This could look like regular check-ins with managers for example, which 33% of employees find important, and can help employees feel recognised and link their achievements to the company’s vision.

Finally, they must create a sense of belonging. Currently, only 37% of employees feel they can be their real selves at work, leading to low psychological safety. When employees don’t feel safe, their brains shift to self-protection mode, hindering higher-order thinking. Having an inclusive culture isn’t a nice-to-have tick box exercise, it’s crucial for business success.

Mentoring goes both ways in building connection

Professional programmes like mentoring and development initiatives not only bring a social element to work and training but also improve employees' skills and shows an employer commitment to career growth.

This is particularly important for youngsters starting their careers. A third of Gen Z employees feel lonely at work, the highest among all age groups. Mentoring can provide the support and connection they need, helping younger employees navigate their first workplace or indeed, assisting seasoned employees who are re-entering the workforce.

Interestingly, reverse mentorship, where experienced employees learn from newer colleagues, can also build deeper connections across generations, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual understanding.

Meaningful appreciation matters

Consistent, genuine recognition and appreciation is a sure-fire way to connect employees to their contributions and build a sense of belonging at work. For example, this could look like regularly celebrating achievements and work anniversaries, and providing recognition based on employee needs. Of course, financial well-being support cannot be overlooked, as financial stress often leads to social isolation. With many employees rating their financial well-being support poorly, HR teams should focus on improving this area to enhance overall connection. Offering discounts, financial education, and flexible payment options can all alleviate financial stress and reduce isolation, so that employees can be less stressed about finances and focus more on enjoying social interaction.

Addressing loneliness equals a happy workforce

If companies fail to engage and connect their employees, they risk losing them to organisations that will, meaning that combatting loneliness is not just an emotional necessity; it makes financial sense. Connected employees lead to higher productivity, lower attrition, reduced burnout and sick leave, and more engaged managers. Leaders must address workplace loneliness as any other business objective – only then can their business remain future-proof.

Written by
July 9, 2024
Written by
Nebel Crowhurst