3 ways to combat loneliness at work

The social connection that comes with a job can benefit our work, and our lives. Those relationships with colleagues can help us share wins or talk through problems. They can give us someone to rely on, join in activities with or just chat to. Ultimately, connecting to others can make a big difference to the way we approach and enjoy work.

In fact, 3 in 4 Kiwis think it’s important to feel connected to their colleagues and workmates.

But there are times when keeping that social connection alive can be hard. Work environments have changed, sometimes making it harder to connect when more people are working remotely.

When 55% of people find it easy to make connections with co-workers when in the office, many are finding it hard to feel connected from afar. And 21% of Kiwis are finding it harder to make these connections since the pandemic began.

So, whether you’re working from home, working differently, or just noticing that you feel lonely while you work, here’s what you can do to feel connected again.

What makes us feel lonely

Loneliness and social isolation have long been around. But these feelings have become more prominent, with 1 in 5 workers report feeling lonelier at work since the start of the pandemic.

And feeling lonely isn’t necessarily linked to where we work; 1 in 4 say working from home makes them feel lonely, whereas 12% of Kiwis say they feel lonely when they are working in the office.

“What makes us feel lonely is a perceived lack of quality connections in our life,” says Sabina Read, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist. “Loneliness is not about how many connections or relationships you have or don’t have, but it’s about the quality of those relationships.”

Read says as a result of the pandemic, many people have felt lonely and socially isolated because there have been fewer opportunities for meaningful exchanges.

The impact of feeling lonely or socially isolated

More than two thirds of people (78%) said loneliness can have a negative impact on their sense of job satisfaction.Without as many chances for meaningful connection, we can feel sad, unmotivated, ‘heavy’, withdrawn or teary.

Read says we’re “hardwired to connect” with others, but this connection has been harder to achieve over the past couple of years. “But there is still a lot we can do to connect and foster those relationships in our social network.”

How to handle feelings of loneliness

We’ve probably all felt lonely in some way at some stage of our lives. And those previous experiences can actually be really valuable in helping you navigate feelings of social isolation. Here are three things you can try:

  1. Seek out opportunities to connect. It may take a little more effort than before but it’s important you look for ways to connect with your colleagues and peers regularly,” Read says. “Try setting up an online channel for sharing non-work news, reaching out to a new colleague each month, or having quick, regular check-ins before meetings kick off. And don’t be afraid of asking each other questions that go below the usual surface-level water cooler exchange. Vulnerability in self invites vulnerability in others, and we need to share something of ourselves to build genuine connections.”

    Or, if it’s ok for you to do so where you are, organise to get lunch or pop out for a coffee with a colleague. They may well have been craving the chance for social connection, too.
  2. Tell someone. While you may feel unsure about sharing your feelings, one in four Australians have experienced loneliness, so you’re definitely not alone in feeling this.

    “If you tell your boss, colleagues or friends you’re feeling isolated, it’s likely they will have experienced those feelings too and will understand. Someone has to kickstart the conversation, why not make that someone you!” Read says.
  3. Draw on your experience. When we feel lonely or socially isolated, sometimes it seems like it’s new territory to navigate, but most of us already have the tools we need to manage these emotions.

    “We’ve all had times of feeling lonely, so think about what you did to manage those feelings in the past,” Read says. “Some people are helped by going for walks and making eye contact with people and saying hello, others like to speak to a friend or colleague, and some people reduce their feelings of isolation by doing something nice for another person.”

The key to combating loneliness at work is making small efforts to connect with others on a regular basis. It can be helpful to remember that loneliness and isolation aren’t fixed states, but rather feelings that will ebb and flow.

By thinking of these emotions as a reminder or sign that we’re hungry for connectedness, we can start trying strategies to combat these feelings and find that sense of connection again.

Talking about loneliness can bring up difficult feelings and emotions, but you don’t have to navigate them alone. If you’re finding things tough at the moment, there’s support available to help you. The Mental Health Foundation has a range of information as well as numbers you can call, and resources that relate to mental health.

Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published October 2022.

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