Loneliness at work: not just an issue for remote workers

Wellbeing needs to be at the centre of how we work now and in the future, heard a European Parliament roundtable session.

Man working alone and looking sad

 

Despite the spotlight on loneliness and isolation at work in relation to remote working, research has shown that remote workers who work from cafes or co-working spaces are less lonely than people who work in offices. This was the a focus of a European Parliament roundtable session on “Modernising Europe’s Workforce Well-Being Strategy” recently, which covered many different aspects of wellbeing.

The event began with a presentation by MEP Lidia Pereira, one of over 30 MEPs to sign the Future Workforce Alliance’s European Charter for Digital Workplace Wellbeing. She outlined the Alliance’s main proposals on wellbeing, which include:

  • A commitment to making mental health as openly discussed as physical health
  • Flexibility and inclusivity
  • Using technology to improve wellbeing
  • A multi-stakeholder approach with wellbeing as a core business strategy
  • Proactively educate about wellbeing
  • To measure and evaluate the impact of wellbeing initiatives
  • To adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances, including future health, economic or climate crises.

Pereira’s presentation was followed by a discussion of recent trends in remote and hybrid working which was led by global experts. Management expert Professor Kriti Jain talked about recent research with the Alliance on worker wellbeing and burnout. She was not surprised that remote workers ranked best for lower burnout and greater work fulfilment.

The researchers categorised people into different patterns of working: those who allow work to interrupt family life on a regular basis, those who regularly allow family to interrupt work life, ‘integrators’ who merge work and family life and ‘separators’ who keep family and work and life separate. They found that, when it comes to remote working, integrators had the lowest wellbeing scores. “They are trying to have it all, which is not possible,” said Professor Jain. Separators, including home workers, suffered less burnout and had more job satisfaction, mainly because they were able to create boundaries between work and home. This could be through time blocking and rituals at the start and end of the day. Professor Jain said this showed the importance of having a ‘right to disconnect’ from work.

Loneliness at work

Dr Connie Noonan Hadley, founder of the Institute for Life at Work, spoke about her research on loneliness and explained that this had been increasing before the pandemic so is not only something that relates to homeworking. Some people’s feeling of loneliness has increased due to the push to get them back into the office and others had found it difficult to deal with hybrid working where people come and go from the office. People who live alone are more likely than others to find it lonely to work from home.

Third space working – working remotely, but not from home, for example, in co-working spaces or in cafes, was in fact the highest rated work location in terms of social fulfilment. Dr Noonan Hadley suggested that this could be because workers had more control over where they worked and could work alongside their friends: co-working spaces offered “an office environment without the negative downsides”, she said. Covid had shown the importance of employees understanding how they work best and learning to manage themselves better, she said, both of which stemmed from greater self-awareness.

Addressing issues

Marcelo Lebre, co-founder of Remote, suggested providing stipends for people who want to co-work so that they can make meaningful connections with others. This allowed people more options if their home space is not conducive to home working or they find remote working lonely.

MEP Dragos Pislaru, chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs concluded the meeting by talking about the importance of having a general European framework on the issues around modernising working. He also described how different nations in the EU are implementing legislation to address these issues, such as Belgium, which recently introduced the right for full-time workers to request a four-day working week. It has also introduced a right to disconnect, although this only applies to companies with more than 20 employees and does not cover all kinds of workers.


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