The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a mass social experiment into working from home. In June 2020, 64% of 3,279 professionals surveyed reported feeling lonely whilst working from home. This represents an 11% increase on the same metric during the early stages of lockdown in March.
HOW DO WE DEAL WITH LONELINESS
We are in the most connected times of our lives, however we still feel lonely. We could be surrounded by 1million people and we could still feel lonely. So the key is to understand the difference between being alone and loneliness. The difference between these will dictate the right approach for an organisation and an individual.
What is loneliness? Essentially, it means that we need someone or something in order for us to be happy. It is a cry for help and it’s highly correlated with apathy. The psychological background of this state can be described through the sentence “I can’t; I can’t do it by myself”. This is important to understand because people could have options to participate in gatherings (virtual or socially distanced ones) and they still feel lonely, they do not participate or they feel good for the duration of being part of the gathering, sliding back into apathy afterwards. Hence, no matter what a company does the feeling of loneliness will still be there. This is why it’s important to realise that responsibility needs to happen at both levels: the individual and the organisation.
People that feel alone (and have not yet gone in a state of loneliness) generally are more proactive in nature. They realise that it’s ok to be alone, it’s ok to enjoy your own company and when you feel the need for conversation you become the organiser of a social gathering or pick up the phone to talk. In simple words: they take RESPONSIBILITY for how they feel and realise that they have the freedom to choose how to feel and what they do.
STEPS TO TAKE AS BUSINESSES
HEALTH & SAFETY
What are people’s home situations? Do they have a space where they can work comfortably and safely? Do they have the necessary equipment?
Create a conversation where you constantly assess how people are feeling. What are their challenges, their struggles? The biggest challenge as organisations is that we give this responsibility to HR or Mental Health Aids. We need to create a culture where people feel safe to have conversations, know how to empathise, know how to be candid when needed be and help people take more responsibility. Otherwise, we are creating more divide and a victim mentality. This needs to be driven by and lead by the top leadership. In this way the top leadership shows that they are serious about their people because it’s important enough for them to do it.
CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOCIALISING
In the position of leading people (whether it is middle management or top management), drive the creation of opportunities for virtual and in person (safely distanced) social gatherings. Help your teams take responsibility and divide and conquer. Everyone should be involved in creating these – in this way you empower people to be part of the solution not part of the problem.
CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEARNING
Offer opportunities for people to learn about themselves and how to get the best of themselves. As leaders we think we don’t experience loneliness or if we do we just get on with it (in other words we don’t admit we struggle). Let me ask you this, if your child or your partner was challenged by loneliness wouldn’t you want to learn as much as possible about what they are are going through? Wouldn’t you want to learn how to empathise? You wouldn’t just say it’s not my problem or you wouldn’t just recognise the problem and then let them deal with it in the hands of “professionals”. When people support each other, they are genuinely there for each other you create trust. And when you have trust then high performance is around the corner.
STEPS TO TAKE AS INDIVIDUALS
As an individual, we need to distinguish between being alone and being lonely. Everyone is going through periods of being lonely and alone, however we need to realise that no one will be able to solve our problem unless we first and foremost take responsibility for that and we start to look for solutions. What are the solutions? Everyone has emotions. They challenge all of us, whether we like to admit it or not. It’s the beauty of being human. We need to start to understand ourselves a lot more. The only reason why we are challenged is because we do not understand what our feelings mean, why they are there and then how to overcome them rather than pushing them down in an attempt to control them. Work with a mentor or a therapist to learn about “the user manual for the human being”. If you want to change your situation you are the gateway to that.
An individual is not defined by title, age, ethnicity, history. An individual could be the CEO or the cleaner.