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Loneliness is the central theme to Mental Health Awareness Week this year, and as employers we need to ask ourselves what we can do to support employees more effectively.

With millions of people in the UK suffering every year, loneliness takes a serious toll on mental health. It’s not just the individual experiencing loneliness that is affected too, but also those around them.

So, for this Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re considering how businesses can better support those affected by loneliness.

Don’t forget homeworking employees

Employees that have been able to maintain working from home opportunities may still relish the set up. However, it’s important to check in with homeworking employees to ensure they aren’t experiencing loneliness and feel part of the team. Out of sight, shouldn’t be out of mind.

Make sure that homeworking employees are still invited to social events and don’t miss out on important work opportunities. Not being physically present in an office, shouldn’t equate to being overlooked.

Whilst working from home can have multiple benefits, it can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Even if employees don’t take you up on the opportunity to participate in social events, it’s the thought that counts. It lets employees know that they are still valued members of the team, even if they’re not regularly in the office.

Make room for charitable activity

It’s well documented that aligning business and social purpose can have a powerful impact on employee engagement and retention rates. The pandemic made many employees re-evaluate what they want from the workplace. With “the great resignation” indicating that they aren’t afraid to change their current employment to get it.

Organisations could look into freeing up time to enable employees to engage in charitable activity – such as initiatives that address elderly loneliness, through care home visits. With an estimated two million older people expected to experience loneliness by 2026, employers can make a significant impact in helping combat the issue.

From supporting local social events aimed at the vulnerable, to allowing flexibility in caring for those struggling – businesses can make a positive impact, that will be valued by employees and communities alike.

It’s not just the elderly that are at higher risk of suffering from loneliness, but young people too. Particularly those that have left education and are vulnerable in deciding their next move. Being born into a digital generation, physical interaction is less common as online communications take precedence – increasing feelings of loneliness.

Businesses and employees can play an important role here too, helping young people to make the leap from education to the workplace and working on youth focused initiatives to tackle loneliness.

Gender divide

As we’ve covered in previous posts, the pandemic unduly impacted women. From taking on increased childcare duties and household chores, to being more likely to lose their job. A significant burden was placed on women during the Covid-19 crisis.

It’s no surprise that women’s mental health worsened as a result, with 45% saying that they “sometimes” or “often” felt lonely – compared to 29% of men.

Whilst social restrictions have eased, the impact on mental health has not. In fact, reports indicate it may be worsening. From individuals experiencing social anxiety (as we “re-learn” how to socialise), to “FOMO” induced burnout (the “Fear Of Missing Out”, leading to exhausting work and social arrangements to catch-up on missed time). It’s clear that the pandemic impact on mental health continues.

The pandemic gave many people a taste of what it’s like to experience loneliness for the very first time. Whilst the easing of lockdown restrictions meant that feelings of loneliness immediately lifted for some, it remains a crippling condition for others.

Employers play a crucial role in tackling loneliness – whether experienced by employees directly, their loved ones, or wider people in the community. It’s important that businesses understand the nuances of loneliness, that it’s not just an issue that affects the elderly, and support employees to make a difference where possible