How to manage employee loneliness

As countries come out of lockdown, many continue to work remotely or may be on long-term leave of absences

How to manage employee loneliness

We’re halfway through 2020 and some countries are coming out of lockdowns and cautiously returning to the office. But companies may choose the safer option of extended remote working arrangements. How can you support employees who are struggling while in isolation?

The mental health impact of COVID-19 cannot be understated. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently made an urgent call to leaders to include mental health in their response and recovery strategies.

WHO’s director-general said the failure to do so may have long-term social as and economic implications.

“Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at WHO.

WHO’s report also quoted findings that many people who previously coped well are now less able to cope because of the overwhelming multiple stressors from the pandemic. While those who have existing conditions may be in a worse-off state.

READ MORE: COVID-19: How to safeguard mental health

Combat the health risks
The combination of constant mental stress, extended lockdowns, and furloughs or leave of absences will hit hard. It can be especially difficult for those living alone or self-isolating, who may find it a very lonely experience.

David Price, workplace wellbeing expert and CEO of Health Assured warned that loneliness can often be the precursor of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. And it’s in the best interested of employers to make every effort in fighting off the spread of loneliness within their organisation.

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the risk of employee loneliness is considerably higher than normal, and the opportunity for intervention has been reduced due to the increase in remote workers and furloughed staff,” Price said.

“While it may seem like a difficult task, there are numerous ways for employers to fulfil their duty of care towards their staff during these challenging times.”

READ MORE: How to cope as a family in isolation

He shared some useful tips for leaders to mitigate any risks:

  • Check in – Conduct regular, informal one-on-one ‘catch-ups’ with your team members. If you can’t do these in person, you can host virtual meetings via video calling platforms or a simple phone call. Use these catch-ups as an opportunity for the employee to raise any concerns they have regarding their work life and mental health.
  • Virtual gatherings – With many of us living in lockdown conditions for weeks and months, social interaction will be sorely missed by many of your employees. Hosting a virtual ‘staff party’ can be a great way for employees to interact with their friends and colleagues, improving their moods in the process.
  • Signpost to EAP – Look into proving an employee assistance program (EAP) so employees can discuss any mental health concerns. A compassionate, listening ear can just be a phone call away.

“Managing workplace loneliness during these unprecedented times is undoubtedly a challenge,” he said. “However, by putting these suggestions in place, you will see a happier, healthier workforce. Which, in turn, will improve your workplace culture, productivity and overall performance.”

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