Feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace can boost your morale, improve productivity and make your job more enjoyable. Research has found that as many as three in five employees feel lonely at work and that loneliness and poor mental health affect many people, regardless of their position or type of work.
Loneliness and mental health are interconnected. Feeling lonely and isolated can impact mental health, and people with mental health problems are more inclined to feel alone. Symptoms of various common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety disorder, can cause even the most outgoing people to withdraw from social interactions.
Employees often feel unable or too embarrassed to talk about these things because they do not want to be considered weak or unable to cope. This is especially prevalent in superficial company cultures, where employee well-being is only about social media image or socialising, and office cliques purposely exclude certain colleagues or the management openly mock staff behind their backs.
Here are some practical steps to help connect you to your workplace community and hopefully aide any feelings of isolation at work.
It usually feels good to be kind and can be very beneficial to mental well-being. It also has the added bonus of endearing others to you and encouraging people to do nice things back. You could bring cakes or chocolates into the office and offer them round or leave them on your desk so that you can potentially engage with any takers.
An act of kindness doesn’t have to be a massive gesture either. It could be something as simple as complimenting a colleague’s work, or remembering something personal about them, such as they have just moved house or have a new puppy, then asking about it later. This tiny step can start an on-going work relationship.
Being socially disconnected at work adds to any feelings of being isolated so creating a working relationship, even with just one colleague, can help reduce feelings of isolation or being alone. If you're new in an organisation or department, find somebody kind and try to get to know them. Ask them questions about themselves and find common interests. After a while, you may develop a solid friendship.
It’s normal to worry that your new colleagues might not ever like you and that you’ll be the outsider forever. Just remember that this is how many people feel when they start a new role.
It might take a little courage to start up conversations with new people but taking part and sharing stories about yourself will help others learn about you and give them a good opportunity to engage back. Be brave and speak during team meetings, even if it’s just to make a joke. Remember to always be positive in conversations and stay away from any negative opinions or gossiping about co-workers.
If a colleague’s insensitive actions make you feel isolated, then tell them. Explain how they're making you feel and give them a chance to correct their behaviour. Calmly, let them know that you are uncomfortable when they say such things. It in no way excuses their conduct but they might not be aware that they are upsetting anybody. If they refuse to respect your request to stop and continue the behaviour then you should escalate the problem to a manager or HR.
It is always completely unacceptable for a colleague, or a group of co-workers, to make you feel singled out and uncomfortable, use derogatory language or behave inappropriately. Inform your manager by email, or HR, if your line manager is ineffectual, joins in or turns a blind eye to colleague bullying or offensive language.
Feeling alone and isolated is usually accompanied with feeling over-tired or exhausted and has been identified as a factor in workplace burnout. The more exhausted someone is, the lonelier they can feel. You could perhaps consider taking a day off for rest and recuperation or ask your manager to re-prioritise your workload so that you feel less fatigued. Apart from feeling refreshed, lessening tiredness could help you feel more able to engage with colleagues which will in turn, reduce feelings of loneliness and disengagement.
Working in a toxic environment is often incredibly isolating and could cause a long-lasting impact on your mental health. It is really important to put your mental well-being first so it might become necessary to detach yourself from the negative atmosphere and start looking for a new opportunity. Look for an organisation that respects and values it’s employees – our guide on “How to spot a bad employer before accepting a new role” should help you decipher the warning signs.
Loneliness is a painful emotional reaction to feeling isolated. It is a widespread and rising problem in modern society and, apart from the destructive personal impact it has on individuals, it can also have a detrimental effect on workplace performance. If you are feeling lonely then don’t suffer in silence and speak to somebody you trust or contact the NHS, MIND or The Samaritans for support.