Along with the pandemic came an influx of loneliness. Many of us were physically isolated for nearly two months at the start. Even after things slowly began to open back up, the mental isolation remained. Now more than half of the U.S. adult population is feeling lonely. That’s a lot of lonely people. While work is not our entire lives, it certainly is a big chunk of how we spend our time. This leaves HR leaders with the power to help employees feel more connected.
1. Be vulnerable
As an HR leader, it is likely you have felt lonely at some point in your career. Be vulnerable about the challenges you have faced. While there may be info you have to keep confidential, you can still share some past struggles with your team. Being vulnerable helps you connect with employees on a human level, and connections are powerful in combatting loneliness. It also sets the example for other leaders in your organization to be open with their direct reports.
2. Promote wellness
Organize activities that promote wellness. It could be a walking challenge or a meditation session. Focus on collaborative challenges that bring people together. If you have the budget, put together a committee of employees to plan wellness initiatives. It takes work off your plate and allows your employees to have a hand in improving their own health.
Ensure you are promoting holistic wellness. This may include physical, mental, social, career, and financial wellbeing. They are all connected, so promoting each one has a hand in combatting mental health problems and feelings of loneliness. Frequently remind your employees of the resources available to them like your EAP (Employee Assistance Program).
3. Encourage the formation of ERGs
ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) are employee-led groups typically consisting of employees who share a similar characteristic. It could be related to gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, interest, or lifestyle. The purpose of ERGs is to focus on coming together to share experiences and create a positive work environment for each identity group. It is great to have a space where employees feel like they belong and can relate to each other. It reminds them they’re not alone in their experiences.
4. Utilize a digital tool
Today, there is a plethora of online tools that can keep us connected. Having ways to connect virtually is crucial with many people working in remote, and sometimes globally dispersed, teams. Keep everyone connected with an employee engagement platform. There are many features at your fingertips such as eCards, social posts, and nominations. You can send a note of encouragement when someone is down. You can post a funny GIF for someone’s birthday. The possibilities are endless.
5. Celebrate in big and small ways
Recognize both the big accomplishments and daily efforts to effectively engage your people. The big wins and yearly parties (which are still great to bring people together) only happen occasionally. Embrace day-to-day recognition to connect and inspire employees on a much more regular basis. Whether it’s a company-provided lunch on Employee Appreciation Day or just some donuts on a Friday, daily gratitude is a great way to help employees feel less lonely.
6. Sprinkle in time for fun
Oftentimes we get so caught up in our work that we forget about the art of play. Research suggests that having fun at work has a positive impact on engagement, creativity, and purpose. Doing fun activities as a team can also foster belonging which is one of the best antidotes to loneliness.
Organize fun company-wide activities once in a while and encourage managers to plan activities for their teams on a regular basis. Some examples are hosting a Mario Kart tournament, going off site for an escape room, or making milkshakes for an afternoon treat. Virtually, you might host a lip sync battle or a pet-friendly happy hour. Think about what your people like best and what makes sense for them personally!
When you commit to helping employees fight loneliness, you commit to helping them feel and perform better. Better performance means more success for your organization. But beyond any numbers and metrics, do it because you care about your people and their wellbeing.