We need to talk about loneliness

From a business perspective, loneliness can be something that is often overlooked, particularly with the growing trend of hybrid workingLast year the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that loneliness is a pressing global health threat. Research has shown that it poses the same health risk as 15 cigarettes a day. According to the ONS, between January and February 2024, one in four adults in the UK reported feeling lonely. The government estimates the cost of severe loneliness per person is roughly £10,000 per year as a result of its impact on wellbeing, health and productivity. From a business perspective, this issue can be something that is often overlooked, particularly with the growing trend of hybrid working. In a connected workplace, employees feel valued, supported, and motivated to contribute their best.

While work-life balance plays a part, it’s important to recognise that for many, the workplace can be a substantial source of their weekly connection with other people. To coincide with yesterday’s Emotional Health Awareness Day, furniture manufacturer, design experts and specialists in workplace strategies MillerKnoll outline some key solutions for employers to consider to support their teams, making them feel more connected, and less lonely.

Create an employee-first strategy: The first crucial step for businesses is to create a well-thought-out workplace strategy. By actively listening to the needs and expectations of employees, and working with them, businesses can cultivate an inviting and engaging work environment. This approach can transform the workplace into a space where individuals are willing to commute to, fostering opportunities for socialisation and alleviating feelings of loneliness. As employees increasingly find the office to be a welcoming and supportive community, they will naturally gravitate towards it, strengthening workplace ties as a result.

Provide opportunities to connect: Organising social events, team-building activities, and networking opportunities after work facilitates social connections and strengthens relationships among teams. Encouraging collaboration through workshops or brainstorming sessions also creates opportunities for meaningful interaction and rapport-building outside of a structured workday.

Designing spaces with impact: Designating communal areas, such as shared workspaces, break and lunch rooms, or informal meeting locations such as lounges, can encourage spontaneous, impromptu connections, and social moments that can help drive innovation, the space to explore new ideas together, and shape team culture. When designing offices, employers need to look beyond desks and chairs – these spaces serve as hubs for team bonding, fostering a sense of camaraderie and belonging between colleagues.

Implement buddy systems: No employee is the same and not everyone will be extroverted and confident to socialise with their teams. Pairing new employees with seasoned team members is a useful way to facilitate mentorship, line of support, and integration into a new company culture.

Wellness initiatives: From group fitness classes like yoga and mindfulness sessions to wellness challenges and employee resource groups such as female leadership channels, these initiatives foster a supportive community centred around shared goals. Integrating wellness programs and initiatives into the workplace promotes holistic wellbeing and strengthens social connections among employees. It also allows for connection with other employees individuals may not have an opportunity to work with on a daily basis.

Mark Catchlove, Director Global Insight Group at MillerKnoll comments: “Amidst the loneliness epidemic, employers must prioritise creating spaces and opportunities for teams to feel connected. Connection is ultimately a basic human need. People crave a sense of belonging – especially in the workplace – but connection is also complex. From our experience working with firms across industries such as legal, education and financial services we understand that maintaining a well-connected culture where people feel less lonely requires constant evaluation, planning and care.”