Being at work can be a lonely experience.

With less job security, flexible work hours and more emphasis being placed on employees needing to meet key performance targets, the social connections we once expected to make at work are no longer there.

Feeling lonely is when someone’s social needs are not being met by their current social relationships. So people can feel alone at work, even if they are surrounded by colleagues, especially if they are not getting the right kind of support.

We know that loneliness can affect our physical and mental health – put simply, we suffer when we are lonely for too long.

We all – young or old – experience loneliness at some point in our lives, but many of us feel awkward about discussing it with others or even admitting it to ourselves.

Perhaps we feel no-one will understand or we believe that there is a stigma attached to loneliness, yet it is prevalent in society. Indeed, one in four Australians say they feel lonely every week and research at Relationships Australia has found nearly 30 per cent of us don’t feel part of a group of friends.

It’s sometimes hard to spot that a team member at work might be lonely. Have you ever suspected it and wanted to reach out, but didn’t quite know how to go about it?

One way is to participate in Neighbour Day on March 31. This annual event is focusing on loneliness and what people can do to form those meaningful social connections. Ask your work team to take part and organise some relaxed and friendly activities that will allow everyone to get to know each other better.

Here is what your work team needs to know about tackling loneliness:

  • Be open about loneliness on and talk about it among your team. Work towards identifying loneliness in your own team rather than across teams.
  • Be aware of team members who don’t join in to office chats, tend to eat lunch alone, often work alone or are not very well known by others. Is there anything colleagues can do on Neighbour Day and thereafter to make those members feel more included?
  • Be aware of circumstances that might make it difficult for staff to join in work social gatherings such as being a carer at home, having a disability, or English being their second language.
  • And keep in mind those team members who work different shifts to others, contractors or casuals, or those who work a lot of overtime. What can the team do to make it easier for them to join in?
  • Be especially aware of the recently bereaved, newcomers to Australia and Sydney, those new to the workforce and those who are older than most other team members as these can all be triggers for loneliness in the workplace.
  • Last but by no means least, when your team returns to work, allow small talk in the office to occur as this can help give them a sense of connection and belonging.

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