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Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: Tackling loneliness

By Hannah Pearsall, Head of Wellbeing, Hays UK & Ireland

Hundreds of thousands of people have found themselves suffering with loneliness due to the pandemic. It’s why the Mental Health Foundation selected ‘loneliness’ as their theme for Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th May.

So, this week, take a moment to reflect on your wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of others, and think about how we can make positive changes to improve our states of mind at home and at work.

What is loneliness?

While “loneliness” as an umbrella term is something everyone has experienced at some point or another, there are actually several different types that one can go through. Emotional loneliness may be when you lose someone who you were very close to, while social loneliness is where someone might lack a wider social network of friends, neighbours, colleagues, for example. Then there’s transient loneliness, which is a feeling that comes and goes, and, lastly, situational loneliness – which reflects certain times of year that can make people feel lonely, such as bank holidays, Christmas and other special occasions.

Loneliness can strike at many different occasions, and can have a dramatically negative effect on a person’s wellbeing. In fact, according to the charity, Mind, loneliness is associated with an increase in symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and an increase in stress.

The impact of loneliness on professionals

Lockdowns caused by the pandemic meant more people felt isolated and alone than ever before. And, although many organisations have now returned to the office on a full-time or hybrid-working capacity, there are still moments in which professionals can feel lonely at work.

The effects of the past few years have shone a light on loneliness, which has led to employers thinking more about employees who may be suffering. And, as hybrid working is the new normal, there’s now a challenge around how to make people feel included when working remotely. If nine out of 10 people are in the office, how do you help the 10th person feel included?

Research carried out by The Co-Op showed that loneliness can affect both the mental and physical health of employees, which has a knock-on effect on productivity and staff retention and could lead to an increase in sick days.

So, what can organisations do to help their workforce?

The best thing that businesses can do to increase the wellbeing of their staff is to encourage people to bring their whole, authentic selves to work, and enable a culture where employees are encouraged to speak openly about challenges they are facing.

Organisations should foster a culture of openness. However, they also need to be prepared to train managers so they can effectively have those conversations and be able to offer assistance to staff. It’s a combination of an open culture, shared experiences, training and support that creates an environment where people can speak up and be effectively signposted to get the help that they need.

Here at Hays, we’re encouraging our employees to increase their social connections by joining some of our internal networks, setting up “coffee roulette” sessions to introduce people who may not have had a chance to speak to each other before, signposting staff to the wealth of wellbeing resources and benefits we offer and making sure our managers are fully trained on how to have compassionate conversations with their teams. How is your office helping to tackle loneliness?

About this author

Hannah Pearsall is the Head Of Wellbeing at Hays UK&I. Hannah has held many different roles during her time at Hays but since 2019 has been supporting employee wellbeing alongside her role as Client Engagement Director. Hannah leads a national network of wellbeing ambassadors which forms an important part of the wellbeing strategy at Hays. In 2022 she was appointed as Head Of Wellbeing. Hannah has a deep interest and curiosity in wellbeing, which stems from her own lived experience. She is also a qualified mental health first aider and accredited Wellbeing Coach.

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