HR Leader logo
Stay connected.   Subscribe  to our newsletter

Loneliness in the workplace: An often-overlooked struggle

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Loneliness is an aspect of mental health that can often be overlooked when discussing other major themes. However, spotting the signs and knowing how to support employees who may be struggling is important in upholding wellbeing.

To assist in this discussion, Spingfox’s chief executive and co-founder, Peta Sigley, highlighted some of the best ways to deal with loneliness in the workplace.

HR Leader: “How can employers go about dealing with employee loneliness?”


Ms Sigley: “It’s a multifaceted problem. I think there [are] a number of things that we could be looking out for. Women are reporting six times the level of loneliness than their male counterparts, particularly in the younger cohort.”

“It’s around having the language and the understanding and recognising that feeling dislocated, feeling as though we’re not wanting to go to events and stepping away from that, those avoidance behaviours may be more reflective of loneliness.”

She continued: “In terms of what we’re looking out for, it’s not just labelling loneliness, but are people appearing fatigued beyond what’s normal. Being tired at the end of the day is definitely normal, but shattered, not so much. It’s unsustainable. Are they expressing feelings of being physically unwell? Because we know culturally, there are many different presentations to things like loneliness and mental ill health.”

“And for some cultures, there’s still a taboo around talking about mental ill health. So, we’ll often hear people talk about physical discomfort. So, whether that is abdominal pain, chest pain, [or] tension throughout the body, people just sort of struggling to find time to come into the office. Are they stepping away more often, and they’re not engaging in those social events? So, there could be a whole range of things that present, and that can be an indicator, not only of mental ill health, but this concept around loneliness.”

“So, is it enough to just put on a social event? No, I don’t think so. I think we need to be doing a lot around education, particularly for our leaders. Again, sometimes our leaders shy away from some of these conversations because they don’t quite know what to do or how to support people, which is where R U OK? Day is really helpful,” said Ms Sigley.

“Importantly, I think for many of our leaders is recognising that most of the time we’re not dealing with clinically diagnosable mental ill health, but more distress. And so, it’s not about fixing people, but creating those open channels for people to have a conversation without judgement, with a regular check-in, with an offer to provide support and name supports and name strategies if that’s what that individual is looking for.”

HR Leader: “What is positive psychology?”

Ms Sigley: “Positive psychology is recognising that influence and supply chain of body, heart, mind, spirit leading to better outcomes or into the space of thriving. So, traditional psychology has always worked on a continuum of dysfunction. Positive psychology is recognising that for the space of dysfunction, we have the space of improving function.”

“So, into this space of human thriving and this concept of sustainable performance. So, evidence-based [and] practical. We see a lot of research done in the space of education. And we know that there are a lot of programs developed within schools for schools for that. And it is about upskilling proactively around competencies that hold us in good stead,” she explained.

“So not only that ability to bounce back, but that ability to bounce forward, that trilogy of self-care when we start to talk about diet, sleep, and exercise, the role of positive emotions and emotion regulation, working with destructive emotions, and also understanding impulse control. [It’s about] understanding our thinking that we are influenced not only by our genetics, but our education, our peer group, and our emotional state.”

Ms Sigley concluded: “[It is] education with practice. So, you’ve got to take that information, you’ve got to put it into action, importantly, measure it, come back, reassess, and keep going. The overarching message really is progress, not perfection. So, we don’t want to stop just when we hit that first hurdle, or we forget to do something, or we stop a practice. It is about moving through those challenges and just reminding ourselves that we have a degree of agency and control in the way that we engage in our world.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Peta Sigley, click below:

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.