What Employers Can Do to Lessen Loneliness

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek June 13, 2023

Employers can take several steps to encourage connectedness among their employees.

"Balancing formal mental health services with self-service educational resources, team-building events, and yoga or other exercise classes may encourage employee participation and satisfaction," SHRM said in its report.

Meanwhile, in a separate report, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy stressed the importance of building social connections "the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers made an extra effort to reach out to employees during the lockdown, using creative ways to connect their remote workforce.

"Are we still doing that? And did [it] address the problem?" asked workplace well-being expert Laura Putnam, CEO and founder of San Francisco-based Motion Infusion. She noted, "In most cases [loneliness is] about the workplace itself" and not how resilient an individual is.

[Read more: Workplace Loneliness Has Broad Implications for Mental Health]

SHRM offers the following recommendations to create connectedness:

1. Foster regular opportunities for colleagues to get to know each other better at work. Team-building events are among the more common activities employers offer to foster collaboration, SHRM reported. Most HR professionals (71 percent) said these activities were effective, and 78 percent of workers reported positive experiences, according to the SHRM report.

2. Invest in well-functioning and easy-to-use electronic technology that connects your workforce. Employees, especially remote and hybrid workers, rely heavily on these tools to maintain interactions and collaboration with their workgroups.

3. Pay special attention to the needs of younger generations and remote employees. Younger generations report greater-than-average challenges to their mental well-being, and remote workers are more isolated and less likely to build workplace friendships, the SHRM report noted.

"These experiences may be even more intense when remote workers are a minority in a predominantly onsite or hybrid workforce," SHRM researchers said.

4. Offer an array of options to support employee mental well-being, and promote these options regularly. Formal mental health interventions are not necessarily the options most employees choose to participate in, SHRM found. Worker participation was lowest for mental health apps (17 percent) and support groups (19 percent).

"Offering a range of options, from formal mental health services to casual group activities such as employee-centric social events, allows employees to choose the types of experiences they derive the most satisfaction from and may generate more widespread participation," the SHRM report said.

Other experts also weighed in:

5. Make well-being a collective responsibility. This requires a holistic approach and support from the CEO on down, Putnam said. 

She also advised encouraging managers to get involved, saying they can play a critical role by speaking openly about their personal challenges. Additionally, having discussions about loneliness can display compassion and creates a safe place where employees can express themselves freely without fear of judgment. 

6. Check in with team members. "Touch base with every person on your team at least once a week," Putnam advised, and ask them two questions: What are you working on, and how can I help?

"Being socially connected is not only feeling connected on a nonwork basis" through social interactions, "but also having work conversations," she said.

7. Don't underestimate the role teams play. Establishing a culture of friendship within a team is critical, according to Putnam. She suggested incorporating a moment of silence or expressions of gratitude at the start of meetings as a way to build friendships and psychological safety.

8. Foster a culture that encourages work/life balance.

Working excessively "may increase a worker's likelihood of being lonely by contributing to burnout and limiting their free time to access supportive job resources, such as professional and personal social networks," according to a 2022 study in the Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance.

"Conversely, supportive organizations and policies that promote work-life balance may help reduce job strain and improve employee morale," the study said.



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