More UK workers than ever feeling lonely at work

May 5, 2021

It’s hardly surprising to learn that UK employees are feeling lonely at work. After all, most of us have been working from our kitchens or living rooms for the best part of a year. But new research shows that the time factor has really made an impact on people’s feelings of isolation – with 1 in 4 remote workers feeling more lonely at work today, than they were a year ago.

It’s been a long and lonely road

In early 2020, millions of people suddenly found themselves working from home. And if you’re one of them, then you probably remember that moment well.

For some, the novelty was exciting – colleagues chatted and joked, shouting “see you in a few weeks” as they waved goodbye to the office. But what few people anticipated, was just how long this would drag on for.

Of course, there was a moment around May, when people thought the lockdown was over and we would be returning to the office for good. But that hope was short-lived, and for most people, working life continues more than a year on, with Zoom meetings and telephone calls their only way to interact with colleagues.

And according to new research, the fatigue is really setting in – with more employees feeling lonely at work now, than there were at the beginning of lockdown.

A look back at workplace loneliness in early 2020

Capterra is a leading B2B software search website owned by Gartner. And in their recent publication, they explain that back in early 2020, 26% of remote workers said that loneliness was a challenge.

This already overshadowed other remote working challenges, such as:

  • Internet connection problems (25%)
  • Too many digital messages (23%)
  • Communication with colleagues (20%)

I can’t actually remember what it feels like to socialise with colleagues “normally”. But while I may have personally gotten used to this general feeling of loneliness and isolation at work, I’m not sure this means the state of workplace loneliness has improved over the last year. In fact, Capterra’s latest data seems to show the opposite.

The state today – loneliness has increased by 26% in just one year

Now that we’re well underway with 2021, Capterra decided to continue their research into remote working. And they discovered that the proportion of remote workers who feel that loneliness is a challenge has jumped to 40%! What’s more, issues with communication have jumped from 20% in 2020, to 35% in 2021.

This means that loneliness and communication are now the two biggest issues facing remote workers in 2021.

“The pandemic has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the way we work and led to an increase in working from home for a lot of UK employees” says Kathryn Todd, Content Analyst at Capterra. “Despite the majority of people enjoying the perks of remote working when these policies first came into place, some remote workers are now starting to notice the more negative aspects of the setup.”

It’s not all bad news though. Despite these challenges, many employees are reporting a growing attachment to working from home. For example, 72% of employees now say they like working from home, compared with just 68% in 2020.

As the world re-opens, don’t let remote workers slip through the cracks

Feeling lonely at work has always been an issue for remote workers. And back in 2018, workplace expert Jennifer Moss addressed this issue in Harvard Business Review.

Her advice back then, was to make sure you bring remote workers into the office on a regular basis – whether that’s once a week, once a month, or once a quarter.  Of course, this advice will have been impossible for most to follow over the last year and a bit – but we should keep it in mind as the world begins to reopen.

You see, you may be planning a bit of a hybrid approach in your return to the workplace. And for the most part, this is great – we even predicted this on the People HR blog, with the 5 ways our working life may change forever. But don’t forget that people need that real interaction with their colleagues.

Ways to encourage real face time going forward

If you’ve closed some of your offices, then make sure you’re not assigning ex-occupants to their kitchen forever. Give them the next closest office to “base” themselves from, and encourage them to make frequent physical appearances.

If you’re giving employees the choice to work from home or to return to the office, then you might want to ask them to still keep a day or two each week in their schedule, which they should use as an office day. Have them come back, touch base, see their colleagues, and top up on that vital human connection.

And if you’ve migrated to a fully home-working workforce? You need to be more careful than ever not to lose that physical connection with your team. At the very least, make sure you’re meeting up with the gang on a regular basis, at a physical location – a coffee shop, a park, a leisure centre. Touching base face to face really does help people who are feeling lonely at work, and it is an experience which cannot be replicated by a video conference.

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