A study, conducted by UK charity Relate has confirmed what we have long known: most British workers see their colleagues more than they do their own family. The report, titled The Way We Are Now: The State of the UK’s Relationships, states that we are “about as likely to have daily contact with our colleagues (62%) as we are with our own children (64%).” The charity, which is dedicated to providing relationship support, found in a survey of 5,000 workers that despite the amount of time people spend with their colleagues, four in ten admit to having no close friends at work, with only 22% identifying as having three or more close friends amongst their colleagues.
Just last week, the Guardian was flooded with letters and comments from sympathetic readers after they published an anonymous article written by somebody who claimed to be lonely in their job. In it, the author describes how their role as a manager inhibits their ability to make friends at work, leaving them in a constant state of depression and isolation. When you consider how much time we spend there, it is unsurprising that having no friends at work can affect us so adversely. When 57% of employees experience high levels of stress in their workplace, having close, if not merely supportive, relationships at work is crucial to successfully managing this stress.
Managers and executives should also be concerned by these statistics since, according to a study by Hakan Ozcelik and Sigal Barsade, loneliness at work directly affects employee performance. Their investigation verified that “greater loneliness led to poorer task, team role and relational performance”, and decreased commitment levels, impacting how employees who suffer from loneliness “perceive and connect” with their organisations. In fact, the Centre for Mental Health holds that presenteeism, “where people are present in work but not fully engaged or achieve less as a result of mental ill health”, costs the UK over £6 billion per year more than absenteeism does. Solving issues, like loneliness, that have the potential to result in mental ill health is essential and beneficial not just for employees and their families, but also for employers, companies, the British economy.
The general consensus seems to be that the responsibility for providing a solution to this issue lies with the employer. Those in top positions should aim to foster a good office culture by ensuring employees are given the opportunity to get to know one another in more informal and fun contexts. Moreover, social activities and events organised by a designated in-house events coordinator is generally recommended. Saying this, lots of people find the idea of their employers arranging their social life cringe-inducing. The focus should, they would argue, be investment in strong occupational health departments that assist employees as and when they require support.
Of course, the counter argument to this is that prevention is better than a cure. Ultimately, it is up to each individual company/organisation to decide their own policy on this matter, and the first step is for company executives and directors to become more aware of the problem and act.