National Connections, Local Ownership
National Connections, Local Ownership

Clark: Combating loneliness in the workplace

Originally appeared in Fleet Owner

A recent Newsweek article noted that when it comes to feelings of loneliness, the younger you are, the lonelier you may be. According to the article, 53% of Gen Z reported feeling lonely. That’s a big turnaround from the past, where loneliness was considered a public health threat primarily to the elderly. This really isn’t that surprising, considering Gen Z experienced the isolation of COVID during their teen years, exacerbating an already tumultuous time of life.

Technology helped mitigate some of those feelings of isolation; FaceTime and Zoom enabled friends, family, and work colleagues to communicate “face to face.” Plus, social media platforms allow users to feel like they are part of a community. Once the pandemic abated, many companies continued to have employees work remotely. Yet the prevalence of remote work has significantly reduced true face-to-face interactions among colleagues. Workers no longer have the opportunity to engage in spontaneous conversations around the office or bond over shared experiences.

How can HR and management mitigate the impact of loneliness?

Feelings of loneliness and isolation definitely affect how effectively people can do their jobs. But remote work is not going away any time soon, even though some employers are requiring people to return to the office. This return may enable workers to, once again, feel connected, but for younger workers, the past few years may have left deeper scars. As leaders and managers, it’s essential that, whenever possible, you encourage workers to interact with one another personally.

This is also an opportunity to assess if your company has a corporate culture that supports connectedness. There are things you can do:

  • Build a community: Give employees different opportunities to interact with one another in both work-related and non-work-related settings. Create social groups and encourage participation in corporate and charitable events as well as team sports.
  • Develop mentorships: Pair your older employees with younger and newer workers. Having someone to talk to can definitely relieve feelings of loneliness. Plus, newer employees will quickly learn how the organization operates and what is expected of them.
  • Encourage communication: Whether it’s an in-house newsletter, instant messaging, or collaboration platforms, employees should have a channel where they can connect with one another. Besides combating mental issues, collaboration is a key factor in any organization’s success.
  • Monitor stress levels: Certain employees can manage heavier workloads and stress better than others. It’s incumbent upon HR to assess whether employees are overwhelmed. Consider developing wellness initiatives and stress management programs.
  • Offer flexible working arrangements: Give employees some control over their work-life balance if possible. This could mean remote work or flexible hours and is a great morale builder. But sometimes this is difficult (consider the job of over-the-road drivers). In these cases, talk with your employees to discern what would keep them feeling connected.

Combating employee loneliness may never have been in your job description in the past, but it certainly is a part of your job now. The more you learn to recognize the signs, the better workforce you will have.