As the year draws to a close, social distancing-related fatigue is wearing down even the most independent and introverted people. The pandemic continues to fuel feelings of loneliness and isolation, threatening employee wellness and productivity along with it. While awareness about this aspect of well-being has certainly risen over the past several months, companies may be unsure of how to handle the problem effectively. Identifying the subtle signs of loneliness can be difficult and near-impossible with employees working remotely. Fostering a sense of community and belonging, without being in person, can be even more of a challenge.

Train Management To Identify Loneliness, Find Solutions

Certainly, adequate support for mental and emotional health needs should be included in any strong wellness program. With decreased social support, these resources are more valuable to employees than ever before. Expanding tools and content for managing stress, anxiety, depression, and other conditions is crucial to sustaining an employees’ emotional well-being, and a positive attitude can help lessen feelings of isolation. Communicating information to employees about these benefits, how to take advantage of them, and their value to wellness and productivity is also important; many may have never needed to use these offerings before this year.

However, aside from providing enhanced mental health support, dealing with lonely employees does not necessarily require the implementation of more benefits. Rather, the behavior and actions of managers and leaders within the company can be utilized to lift up lonely workers. Managers should be trained to identify the signs of loneliness and how it is affecting employees, and then be able to implement effective solutions.

  • Create a meaningful work experience. One of the signs of loneliness is a lack of interest in one’s job or other personal interests. An employee might be underperforming or less engaged with coworkers if loneliness is at play. Without being at a physical office and interacting with others in person, workers can lose their sense of belonging within a company or become disinterested in their career direction. To combat this, managers should praise work consistently (even for small successes) and celebrate accomplishments for individuals, teams, and the company as a whole. Recognizing work achievements can help create a sense of purpose and sharing in company goals can foster community.
  • Alternate forms of social interaction. At this point, many people are exhausted by constantly communicating via video conferences or virtual messaging. The repetitiveness of virtual interactions can be incredibly unfulfilling, no matter how frequent or interesting conversations may be. Managers that notice a drop in casual conversation on message boards or during video meetings might want to introduce alternative spaces for communicating. Phone calls or even safe socially-distanced in-person meetings can be extremely refreshing for employees.
  • Facilitate new friendships. While some socialization between coworkers may be ongoing thanks to regular virtual communication for work tasks, employees’ social lives outside of work may be suffering greatly. This is something that can easily go unnoticed by managers that are less aware of employees’ personal lives and situations. By setting up shared interest groups and spaces for non-work conversations—such as a channel on Slack for working parents or a group dedicated to fitness options during the pandemic—employees can create new connections.
  • Open up to employees. Even working remotely, managers might notice that an employee seems less engaged or communicative with coworkers. Maybe someone only messages or responds to coworkers the bare minimum amount needed to get work tasks accomplished and avoids most casual interactions. In this case, managers should make an effort to open up about their own isolation or other pandemic-related struggles. If a worker feels like they aren’t the only ones suffering, this may relieve some stress. It can also encourage someone to feel comfortable talking more openly with coworkers or reaching out for professional help.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in many places across the nation, properly-trained managers will remain an important asset for maintaining employee mental health as well as productivity.

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