For many employees, if there were any consolation prize to experiencing a pandemic, it would be the added flexibility that came from not having to go into the office. The problem now is that, a year and half later, the excitement of wearing pajamas all day has worn off and teams are tired of Zoom happy hours. After almost two years of remote work, many people feel burnt out and isolated at work.
U.S. quit rates are an astonishing 25% higher than prepandemic levels, placing a new sense of urgency on employers to take stock of their retention efforts. An April Gallup poll found that loneliness is increasing week after week throughout America; as a result, workers now see it as a requirement that work should provide a sense of meaning, purpose and connection.
While some uncertainty still remains around the duration of the pandemic, what’s clear is that some amount of remote work will undeniably exist as a constant in the future of work. Some companies have said their employees can work from home indefinitely, while others are transitioning to a hybrid model.
With this shift, managers need to make sure their people are seen and heard now more than ever. So what steps can you take to help employees combat loneliness on the job?
Positive affirmations: A small way to combat isolation at work
Praise — especially as it relates to someone's performance at work — is a simple yet effective way to introduce positive affirmations. Create a culture of spreading positive feedback daily and set reminders to model this practice for your teams and with your peers at work. Even giving quick kudos for a project completed on time or an insightful question or comment in a meeting goes a long way.
Positive feedback doesn’t have to be a formal event. During team meetings or one-on-one conversations, praise employee achievements, such as hitting a milestone or achieving a goal. Frequent affirmations can put gas in a worker’s emotional tank while showing the team that accomplishments matter, whether big or small. Beyond that, building a culture of positivity can have long-lasting effects on your team’s retention efforts — and your bottom line.
Mindfulness and meditation teach people how to address even challenging emotions through breathing techniques, listening to their bodies and taking stock of what's going on inside. Techniques such as these can be an impactful step to help workers solve feelings of isolation that might crop up during the workday.
Some companies have offered a variety of options through the pandemic to help with mental health. Some of them might be a fit for your team, such as:
- Guided meditation sessions
- Encouraged break times throughout the day to fight burnout
- Free subscriptions to apps such as Mindfulness or Stop, Breathe & Think
- Additional, dedicated paid time off to use for self-care
ERG and affinity groups build community for those feeling isolated at work
ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) create communities for traditionally marginalized or underrepresented employees. ERGs play a big part in the company culture here at Indeed, for example, offering traditionally marginalized or underrepresented employees a sense of representation and inclusion.
Leaders can foster ERGs in a few ways:
1. Ensuring top-level support
Employees typically start ERGs themselves, but it’s helpful to have an executive sponsor, such as the president or someone in the C-suite, to take an interest in seeing the ERG thrive.
2. Setting goals and evaluating needs
After employees start ERGs and get executive buy-in, leaders can help them establish and access the resources, goals and framework necessary for success.
3. Promoting the ERG
Leaders should use company resources, such as Slack channels or internal newsletters, to promote the ERG to people looking to connect. An ERG is all about its members, and in order to get involved, they need to know it exists.
ERGs differ from affinity groups, which are more loosely structured around employees’ hobbies and interests in things like sports or food. But affinity groups are also a great idea to consider. Finding groups of like-minded employees can help people combat loneliness at work — whether it be a book club or a conversation channel dedicated to setting up new encounters between teammates.
Think about going hybrid
Many companies are considering a hybrid model for work schedules, where some workers come into the office a few days a week rather than having everyone work full time at total capacity. According to Indeed’s data, 32% of workers would choose a hybrid schedule, given the choice, though it’s also worth noting that other workers would choose to quit before returning to the office.
Another possible scenario for companies that have abandoned a traditional office model is to offer a monthly stipend to join a coworking space. It comes down to what best supports employees while they keep up with their daily workload.
But even if you’re considering or have already implemented a hybrid model, be aware that it isn’t one size fits all, and the best frequency will likely vary by worker, company and team. Workers fighting loneliness might want more time in the office, while others could be content with a few days per week (or fewer).
Adopt the mindset that the “how to” of hybrid work at your company will be ever-evolving. Create a safe way to collect ongoing feedback from your employees on what they need and how it’s going — and be prepared to test and learn with different approaches across the company.
Lead with empathy
Beyond concrete actions and programs, there’s another strategy employers can put into practice each day to combat their employees’ feelings of loneliness and isolation: being empathetic.
Leading with empathy and vulnerability is especially important now, after nearly two years in a pandemic that upended both work and life as we know it. Compassionate leaders should talk to their teams and see what works best for everyone, factoring in people’s differing needs regarding office routines and flexibility to create an environment of psychological safety.
Whether it be supporting workers in mindfulness practices or starting an ERG, how you move forward in this climate will depend on what is best for your people and company — all while making sure no one feels lonely on the job.