Despite increased appetite in the UK for remote working practices to continue into the future, the disconnection from the day-to-day social interactions of the workplace and the encroachment of work on our home lives has seen feelings of loneliness and isolation take hold, in a workforce already struggling to adapt to the challenge of the ‘new normal’.1
According to a new survey by leading UK job board Totaljobs, almost half (46%) of UK workers have experienced feelings of loneliness during their time in lockdown. Worryingly, (70%) found the loneliness they experienced to have had a negative impact on their overall wellbeing with only 6% believing their imposed isolation had, in fact, had any positive effect at all.
The impact of social isolation
When asked about how loneliness has affected their lives during lockdown, the results show just how wide ranging and insidious the impact of social isolation can be. Two fifths of workers (41%) said it had a detrimental impact on their sleeping habits, a quarter (24%) on their living arrangements, 37% on stress levels, 33% on their self esteem and 30% on their eating habits.
The stresses of lockdown loneliness have also brought to the fore some of the pre-existing imbalances long present in the UK workforce. Half (50%) of women reported experiencing social isolation and were more likely to have experienced a negative impact across all areas of their wellbeing. For example, 1 in 5 (44%) women reported a negative impact on their sleep compared to 39% of men.
This could be due to a number of reasons, for example, women are more likely to lose their jobs during lockdown2, or have greater demands involving childcare and domestic work compared to men.3
However, there is one group of workers for whom lockdown has had even more of an impact. Despite being the ‘digital natives’ of the modern workforce, it’s the UK’s younger generation of workers [18-38] who have reported the highest instances of lockdown loneliness, with three quarters (74%) affected by the social separation brought about by remote working.
The social silence
For so many of us prior to the pandemic, the bulk of our day-to-day social interactions took place as a result of being at work. Over half (52%) of workers agree that the majority of their daily social interactions happened in the workplace. This is more so for younger workers (53%) than their older colleagues (45%).
However, these daily social check-ins with colleagues have not translated well into the remote working environment, if at all.
Workers across all age groups are already impacted by the social effects of losing regular contact with friends and family (46%), workers now face a drastically changed social landscape when logging on to start the day’s work.
Amongst those working from home, two thirds (67%) say lockdown has reduced the variety of their daily social interactions. In fact, workers have noticed a steep decline in the actual number of colleague interactions, with these halving on average during lockdown.4
A further 49% report having effectively lost contact with colleagues during lockdown that they would usually speak to on a regular basis.
A career, interrupted
This effect is keenly felt amongst those in the workforce hardest hit by job insecurity generated by the pandemic. Half (49%) of workers on furlough say they have had a ‘wake-up call’, having realised just how important work has been for their social lives. Previous Totaljobs research carried out in June found that during lockdown, 46% of workers say they miss the everyday workplace interactions with their colleagues.5
The short term effects of this social decline are already in evidence. A quarter (24%) say loneliness has had an impact on their productivity, creativity and problem-solving abilities during lockdown.
The long term effects on everyday interactions, particularly on the ability of younger workers to learn and develop their skills at this crucial time in their careers should be a cause for concern for employers. Half (49%) worry about interrupting colleagues currently working from home, with over a third (36%) struggling to ask for help that they would usually have no issues asking face-to-face.
Across the board, UK workers are finding it hard to come forward and address this important issue with their employers. Amongst those who’ve felt lonely, over a third (39%) haven’t confided in anyone, with only 1 in 10 (10%) wanting to bring up the topic of loneliness with colleagues in their team.
Stephen Warnham, Job Expert at Totaljobs says:
‘‘Employers have an important role to play in helping to develop the social confidence of our staff, especially given the challenging circumstances of the past six months. Whilst we have needed to adapt, the reality is that we are all going to go through change again as we settle into a ‘new normal’. However, with such change comes a responsibility to prioritise and maintain those important everyday social factors that make coming to work enjoyable, engaging and rewarding for so many.
We will spend around a quarter of our adult lives at work, and so knowing that we are surrounded by people who we can trust and whose company we enjoy can only have a positive impact on our wellbeing.
By providing staff, particularly those who have been adversely affected by loneliness, with a working environment that continues to encourage social interaction both during and after the lockdown period, businesses can ensure that nobody misses out on the opportunity to lay the groundwork for the kinds of skills they will need to excel throughout their careers.
Employers have a duty of care. Today’s results illustrate the majority of staff who experience loneliness believe it has a negative impact on their working lives. Individuals who end up feeling disconnected or isolated in this way naturally aren’t going to perform to the best of their abilities; they may even choose to leave a role which is negatively impacting their wellbeing.
By taking steps to look after and maintain the social wellbeing of our teams, especially at a time when staff are likely to find themselves working remotely, employers can create workplaces that help staff feel more content in their roles, wherever they may be.”