The ability to work from home has been one of the only positive aspects of lockdown for many people. But as the year has progressed, lots of us have begun to miss social interactions with our colleagues away from our screens.
With so many of us social distancing, working from home and doing endless screentime, it’s inevitable that experiences of loneliness will spike. Instead of chatting on the coffee run, splurging on takeaway sushi for lunch and gossiping over post-work drinks, we’re spending a lot of time alone.
According to a Totaljobs survey of 2,000 UK workers taken in July, almost half (46%) have experienced loneliness during lockdown. The figure rises to 74% for younger workers, who are already the most likely to be negatively affected by Covid-19. And with the holiday period fast approaching, feelings of isolation among home-workers are likely to increase even further.
Why Christmas can be a hard time for remote workers
“As we approach the Christmas period, we are reminded about the rise of loneliness across the country,” says Dr Nick Taylor, a clinical psychologist who worked in the NHS for over ten years before setting up the workplace mental health platform Unmind.
“Under normal circumstances, during this period, offices tend to become more sociable - it’s the season of Christmas parties and Secret Santa, and for many people, a sense of inclusion,” he adds. “In 2020, however, it’s likely that these events will move online, and for those already living alone this may lead to increased feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.”
The winter months are already difficult for a lot of people. Over two in five Brits have felt stressed during the festive season, according to a YouGov survey from December 2019, with around one in four struggling with anxiety or depression. We stress about our finances, overindulge in alcohol and struggle with the long, dark days.
And while many rely on cosy evenings with family and friends to see us through Christmas, it can be a reminder of the loved ones we've lost - which combined with the pressure to be cheerful, can be extremely difficult and isolating.
How to tackle loneliness over the festive period
“Feelings of isolation and loneliness will be different for each individual, but there are a few things that you can do to mitigate these feelings and nurture your wellbeing,” Taylor says.
“For example, if you are not under strict lockdown, try to get out doors when you can. Break up your day with a walk or run around the park. You can also pick up a book, try an online exercise or a mindfulness class. This will help you to switch off and focus on yourself for a bit.”
Although large swathes of the UK are entering new lockdowns amid the second wave of infections, it’s also important to try where you can to have more social interactions with friends and family.
“Whether you schedule video calls, or are able to meet up whilst remaining within government guidelines, being in touch with others will help us feel more connected,” says Taylor.
It’s also important for employers to create a positive working environment. Encouraging staff to interact with one another, rather than working in silence, is more likely to boost morale, which in turn can improve productivity. Small gestures can go a long way too, such as paying for a takeaway or drinks at home for employees, instead of the usual Christmas party. It’s a small price to pay to make workers feel appreciated.
Making sure remote workers have a solid support system and a good work-life balance is also crucial. If employees are burdened with a heavy workload, they’re more likely to feel stressed and burned out.
Finally, make sure remote workers have a safe space to talk about any problems they may be experiencing, if they want to. Start by talking about general wellbeing, and let people know they can talk to you if they need to. Remember, everyone’s experience of mental health is different, so focus on the person, not the problem.
“Taking a proactive approach is important, and through learning about your own mental health and finding the ways that work for you to boost your mood and tackle loneliness, you can help to lessen feelings of isolation during the Christmas period,” Taylor says.
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