Firms restructured workforces and management processes during the pandemic, but did it come at the cost of isolating their staff members?
Loneliness plays a significant part in mental wellbeing. Feelings of isolation, anxiety and low self-esteem all increase with loneliness. Workplace loneliness can have major implications for organisations, such as higher staff turnover, greater lack of commitment and lower worker performance. While loneliness at work is not a new issue, it is now a more prominent one, especially after COVID-19. Is the pandemic to blame for increased workplace loneliness?
Understandably, COVID has caused organisations to make sensible financial decisions to keep afloat, but this should not come at the cost of workers’ wellbeing. Reduced profits have seen organisations dilute, restructure, or make cuts to workforces. Job and organisational design from restructures or job cuts have seen more and more workers becoming lone workers during the pandemic. Is it possible organisations rushed through restructuring or change management processes due to COVID, and not considered the long-term implications of some decisions – such as loneliness?
Morning to night – alone
Staff who worked in the commotion of a busy office pre-pandemic continue to stay away from the office. But organisations are not used to dealing with the loneliness that comes with home-working: we see inadequate systems, lack of resources, lack of access to support and lack of communication. Organisations may have overlooked the fact that some workers go home to nobody, see nobody all day and wake up seeing nobody again. This increased isolation should be at the forefront of any review into lone/remote working. Worker perception surveys may help identify those who need more interaction by being in the workplace and those that prefer home-working.
Two- or three-person teams, such as bricklayers, electricians and plumbers, may now find themselves working alone full-time. Many other workers, in every sector, are now facing different circumstances to those pre-COVID and there is the potential for loneliness if organisations do not get this right.
Is now the right time for organisations to stop and review decisions made during the start of the pandemic? Should they review areas such as mental wellbeing and the impacts of loneliness? Is it also time to review expectations on workers who now find themselves in reduced or one-person teams?
Here to stay
Reviewing the impacts of decisions and worker expectations is a good place to start. It is also worth considering how to make things better: reward collaboration, increase communication, and reduce expectations and demands. While the economy rebuilds, hybrid working, smaller teams and workplace loneliness look here to stay. Organisations must act now and make it their duty to ensure that they have accounted for this and its impacts, and safeguard their workers in every way possible.
Have other risks to these newly lone workers increased too? Fewer workers at the same rate of production means more expectation, more demands – and more risk. Workers may argue this case to try and support their argument to stay in a team. Is there a chance, though, that it is only workers’ perception of safety that has changed now there is no team around them? If this is the case, how do organisations reassure workers, alleviate their fears and support their employees? Do we need to reflect loneliness within risk assessments?
Whatever we decide to do in our management of loneliness, we need to appreciate this issue is here to stay – therefore the sooner we make the right moves to tackle this issue, the better.
Ryan Exley is an OSH content developer at IOSH