My daily treat after a day at Life Clubs is to go to the park with my dog, knowing I will always meet at least two fellow dog owners out of a group of around twenty of us.
After several very happy years of ‘dog club’, when I went to the park for a few consecutive days and found no other members, I had to face the fact that our dog club days were over.
I felt lonely and sad. I missed my ‘gang’.
Loneliness is a big issue. It’s been in the press a lot recently. We all know of lonely elderly people and now lonely millennials (and dog owners), but being lonely at work isn’t spoken about so often and yet it’s a huge problem. It’s not just lonely at the top, it can be lonely in a new team or if friends have left the organisation or if you go somewhere every day where you haven’t got a best friend.
I remember an excellent article in The Guardian which spoke about how it feels to be alone in the workplace. It cited a couple of studies that back up what we all intuitively know, that loneliness at work influences performance. Lonely people focusing on when the day will end make less ‘discretionary effort’ than those who have friends they can talk to at work. And, of course, it can affect their mental health, leading to further issues for them and for you, their employers.
What to do..? I’ve put together a few tips and hints to help combat loneliness in your workplace. Some are tongue in cheek, but, in each case, underneath the flippancy is a good point, not to be ignored.
- Buddies – give new people a buddy who can introduce them around the office when they first arrive. Then give them a new buddy every month for at least the first three months.
- Create new teams – invite different members of your team each time to brainstorming sessions. Ask them all for their views and thoughts – keep them involved. Yes, even the introverts.
- Explain purpose - ensure colleagues know what they’re doing and what you’re doing and why.
- Ban instant messaging – if someone needs to ask someone a question, let them get off their chair and find that person or, at the very least, schedule a chat.
- Flexible working - don’t rush to bring in blanket flexible working. Although ideal for some, it may make other colleagues feel even lonelier.
- Invent a game - suggest each time a colleague sits next to someone they haven’t met before, that they spend five minutes trying to find ten things they have in common – anything from favourite holiday places to favourite coffee hangout at work.
- Picnics – if budgets are tough, suggest picnic lunches as a team or that everyone brings in a dish one day a month.
- Alcohol - do without it. Arrange alcohol-free events which mean that everyone can attend, no matter what their faith or diet.
- Arrange clubs – make sure everyone joins a once a month club, whether it’s swimming, jogging, singing, drawing or helping at a charity.
- And, of course (I would say this, wouldn’t I?) there’s always Life Clubs at Work to help bond your colleagues.