Reaching out – combating loneliness when working from home

Published date
This week is Mental Health Awareness week and alongside championing good mental health for everyone, this year, the focus is on tackling loneliness.

Loneliness affects us all at some point and it isn't limited to any specific demographic. In their new report on loneliness, the Mental Health Foundation sheds light on its many causes, effects, risk factors, and offers practical solutions to deal with it.  

One of the most important points raised in the report is how we generally overestimate the effects of age and rural settings on loneliness. Whilst loneliness may conjure images of someone living alone, distant from civic life, with no-one to reach out to, it can also affect people in urban environments and those with many social contacts and family networks.  

During the Covid pandemic, home working became an integral part of life for many of us. As we’ve moved beyond lockdowns, home working has stayed part of working life with all the benefits and problems that go with it.  

One of the most prominent mental health challenges that arise from home working is loneliness. Being isolated from colleagues and missing out on social interactions can take their toll over time. So too can spending long, indistinguishable days in a space that is both your home and your workplace.  

Although some employers have embraced home working for the flexibility it offers, this isn’t always followed through with a commitment to employee welfare.

Just because your employer has enabled you to work from home, this doesn’t absolve them of all responsibility for your wellbeing. Their duty of care to you as an employee is the same whether you are in an office or working from home. 

There are many things that can be done to counter loneliness when home working: 

  • Stay in touch – employers should ensure that staff working remotely have regular contact with their team. This doesn’t mean micro-managing or as part of formal meetings, but a consistent effort to ensure workers feel included and connected with their colleagues and organisation. 
  • Physical meetings and check-in days – if employees are working from home on a regular basis, employers should facilitate check-in days or hold periodic in-person meetings to allow staff to come together as a group.
  • Social contact – it’s important that when connecting with colleagues that it’s not all about work. Office chats, tea breaks, and lunchtimes spent together are all lost when someone is home working. To bridge this gap, why not try organising social meetups with colleagues, or commit to taking time when at home to get in touch with friends and co-workers as part of your routine.

Personal wellbeing shouldn’t have to suffer because someone works from home. It’s not a trade-off with the flexibility home working offers. Nor should it be shrugged off by employers as an inevitable, unsolvable downside to that mode of working.

If you are concerned about your working situation, or that of a colleague, talk to your union today.

If you want to learn more about mental health at work, download our Mental Health toolkit. It contains useful information and guidance to help you promote good mental health and wellbeing in your workplace.