The uptick in remote working for some parts of the labour market during COVID led to an initial boom in social activities at work as we attempted to find virtual replacements for those water-cooler moments. The excitement, however, was short-lived. Instead, reports suggest that many found themselves overloaded with different communication tools and suffering from Zoom fatigue.

Acas has heard too how, as time passed, focus shifted away from looking after staff wellbeing towards other business priorities, with originally well-intentioned one-to-ones soon fading. According to our latest poll, 3 in 5 employers (60%) have seen an increase in hybrid working, and over half (52%) an increase in full-time home-working. Where such transitions are not managed well, there could be a danger that workers are left to suffer in silence.

With support from senior leaders, managers should:

  • create psychologically safe environments where staff feel comfortable sharing how they are feeling and trust that any disclosure will be met with empathy and kindness
  • be intentional and inclusive in how, when and where they communicate and bring colleagues together, including new starters, for both work and non-work-related matters in order to build engagement and cohesion
  • understand where to go for support themselves - looking after others can have a big impact on our own emotional welfare and we can end up experiencing compassion fatigue. Legal and General research reveals the mounting pressures facing managers, with 1 in 4 saying their team size has grown since before the pandemic

Individuals: self-care is not selfish

We all have a legitimate need to belong that should not be ignored or taken lightly. Of course, we all need time to ourselves occasionally, but we could also be surrounded by people and still feel lonely.

Loneliness can have a range of different causes and experiences are unique to every individual. In many cases, people’s relationship with work – how, when, where and even with whom, as colleagues went on and off furlough or left for good – has vastly shifted during COVID. And while some are now able to embrace the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, as well as friends and family, not everyone will be in the same boat. Many will also be experiencing grief, with the return to ‘normal’ life a cruel reminder of what they have lost.

Individuals themselves know best what they need and should:

  • take steps to look after their own wellbeing and recognise how loneliness might be affecting them – many will have developed their own coping strategies during the pandemic
  • recognise any triggers, for example, according to Natcen, working from home is associated with larger increases in mental distress for those living alone; setting out a plan to regularly attend the workplace with other colleagues can be helpful
  • work with their line managers by talking openly and mutually agreeing any adjustments or adaptations at work to increase feelings of connectedness

Everyone: it’s time to find the unmute button

Too often we rely on individuals alone to bring issues to the fore, but as this blog highlights, every one of us has a part to play in reducing the spread of loneliness. And it begins with talking.

Initiatives like Loneliness Awareness Week and Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme of loneliness this year show the issue is rising up the agenda. But if we don’t keep up the momentum and back up our words with action, we risk having another pandemic on our hands.

Written by Simone Cheng, Senior Policy Adviser, Acas

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