Lockdown loneliness has left its mark on UK workers, a new study says. It seems women and younger workers are most impacted by the ‘social silence’ of remote working.
Research by leading UK jobs board TotalJobs has found that:
- 46% of UK workers have experienced loneliness in lockdown.
- Daily social interactions with colleagues have dropped by 51%.
- 49% of workers have lost regular contact with some colleagues altogether.
- 49% of furloughed workers say they now realise how important work is for their social lives.
- The survey found women (50%) and younger workers (74%) have been most adversely affected by social isolation in recent months.
- 7 in 10 workers found their loneliness had a negative effect on their overall wellbeing. Sleep, eating habits, stress levels and self-esteem were all affected.
Many people in the UK say they want remote working to continue in the future. However for others, 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.
However with a little effort and consideration, it’s possible to counteract these effects. And it’s vital to do so, says Stephen Warnham of Totaljobs. “By taking steps to look after the social wellbeing of their teams, employers can create workplaces that help staff feel more content – wherever they may be.”
The impact of social isolation
Respondents were asked about how loneliness has affected their lives during lockdown. The results show just how wide ranging the impact of social isolation can be.
- 41% said it had a detrimental impact on their sleeping habits;
- 24% on their living arrangements;
- 37% on stress levels;
- 33% on their self-esteem;
- 30% on their eating habits.
Lockdown loneliness has also highlighted some pre-existing imbalances long present in the UK workforce. 50% of women reported experiencing social isolation, and were more likely to feel a negative impact across all areas of wellbeing. For example, 44% of women reported a negative impact on 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 lockdown, or have greater demands involving childcare and domestic work compared to men.
However, there is one group for whom lockdown has had even more impact. Despite being the ‘digital natives’ of the modern workforce, it’s younger workers (18-38) who have reported the highest levels of lockdown loneliness at 74%.
The social silence
For many of us prior to the pandemic, the bulk of our day-to-day social interactions took place at work. Over half (52%) of workers agree the majority of their daily social interactions happened in the workplace.
These daily social check-ins with colleagues haven’t 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 also face a drastically changed social landscape when logging on.
Among those working from home, 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, halving on average.
A further 49% report having effectively lost contact with colleagues they would usually speak to on a regular basis.
A career, interrupted
This effect is keenly felt among those in the workforce hardest hit by job insecurity. Half (49%) of workers on furlough say they have 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 everyday workplace interactions with their colleagues.
The short term effects 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. Among those who’ve felt lonely, over a third (39%) haven’t confided in anyone.
“A responsibility to prioritise social factors”
Stephen Warnham of Totaljobs says, ‘‘Employers have an important role to play in helping to develop the social confidence of our staff. This is especially true given the challenging circumstances of the past six months.
“While we have needed to adapt, 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. 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 adversely affected by loneliness, with a working environment that continues to encourage social interaction both during and after the lockdown period, businesses can ensure no one misses out on the opportunity to lay the groundwork for the kinds of skills they will need to excel throughout their careers.”
Maintaining social wellbeing
Stephen continues, “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 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.”
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