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  • 1 February 2023
  • 1 year

Isolation in Cyberspace

James Sussex

Clinical Team Lead

“You are the salt of the earth. But remember that salt is useful when in association, but useless in isolation.”― Israelmore Ayivor

The World Health Organization defines loneliness as pain felt “when our social connections do not meet our needs”, and social isolation as “having a smaller number of social contacts, which may contribute to loneliness.” Despite these definitions, loneliness and isolation are unique experiences that impact us at different times, depending on our circumstances over a short or long period of time. In a post-pandemic world, roughly 20 percent of workers just in the UK are experiencing a sense of loneliness at work on a day-to-day basis. Of this number, around a quarter report that this sense of loneliness impacts their mood and mental health in a negative way. It’s no secret then, that loneliness can be a key component of a dip in mental health and wellbeing.

Let’s take a look back to recent history to two key moments: 1) the global pandemic, and, 2) the advent of the age of the internet. Decades apart, and yet in the grand tapestry of human history – all but five minutes. We know that the pandemic has led to a rise in working from home, and that we all have internet, and the digital age, and all the other things that we tend to say about the pandemic and remote working. But really think about it for a moment – two generations ago or so, things were vastly, hugely different. How far the work environment has developed in a short space of time is simply incredible. Even without the pandemic leveraging more employers into remote working, the advent of the internet and the ability to proliferate copious amounts of information across digital platforms possibly meant such changes were only brought forward by the pandemic.

Given all of this, it’s important to note that certain roles have been identified as not requiring office-based work. Add to this that many other companies are employing hybrid working, and it might seem that the working world is beginning to buy into synchronous, flexible working paradigms. There is, however, another side to the benefits of being able to grow teams, and build infrastructure beyond the limitations of geographical location.

Working remotely and maintaining collegial relationships at home poses a risk of isolation in the professional domain. If we work full time, we spend a large part of daily life at work or liaising with co-workers. For many people, this has been both a reprieve and a challenge at the same time. Let’s not forget – the pandemic saw many job roles become remote, but in a reactive way. All of a sudden, the social time spent with other people at work switched to virtual, telephonic and digital relationships. However, even when we are working remotely, the implication on mental health cannot be ignored. Taking care of employees’ health and safety doesn’t just extend to the physical environment and physical health, but to mental health and wellbeing – even across locations.

Taking care of the physical aspect of health and safety is more difficult in the remote domain – after all, how can we effectively manage health and safety thoroughly in an employee’s home? So, this then presents an opportunity to take more care of mental health and wellbeing. Productivity drops as morale decreases, and a key way to prevent this is by taking care of employees’ sense of mental wellbeing.

Social isolation is sometimes the prologue to a whole story of adverse health consequences including but not limited to anxiety, depression, stress, reductions in physical wellbeing (sleep, eating, immunity, and physical health problems), and issues in later life with cognitive functioning. One of the most widely reported issues with working from home is depression, due to a lack of social interaction. Isolation and lack of structure can also lead to stress, which impacts employees differently – some more than others and some not at all.

Facilitating employees with structure will avoid them overworking and experiencing stress or burnout. One of the common pitfalls is that managers may feel at a loss as to how to support employees appropriately, but encouraging employees to bring positive routine into practise in their workday can go a long way towards prevention. Increasing positivity and morale through connection, championing relationships as the cornerstone to success, and fostering an environment of trust, mutuality, and co-operation. A simple mission, but one that is often overlooked. Ultimately this does not need to be any huge leap for mankind, but rather some common-sense themes that we can harness. Here are a few things that we can do to ease a sense of isolation:

Create a space for dialogue.

If social isolation is on the rise because of work circumstances, let’s create a space for people to connect in the remote domain. The antidote to isolation is connection, and this doesn’t need to be at huge relational depth for connections to form. Equally, the word social doesn’t need to equate to being extroverted, or the life and soul of the party – but part of the group, part of the team, one of the gang. Setting up brief time to have a check in, or a chat, both with and without managers present – can keep people motivated and engaged with each other as a whole team. If managers are present during this time, keep chat informal – and formal meetings for business.  Alongside this, one-to-one meetings are important – keep it light, and set expectations as to what the one-to-one is for. Ensure to check in without giving off a vibe of micro-management. Take care to look for employees who are less vocal and give everyone the same amount of attention.

Aside from group and one-to-one chats, setting up social groups, internal discussion groups or team trainings can go a long way. New members on the team? Allow some of the more experienced members to take charge of some training time. Set up social media channels internally to foster discussion on life outside of work.

Share information.

Knowledge is power and when we share information we share a wealth of knowledge and an armoury of resources. Signpost staff to external means of connection and channels – directly or indirectly. This can be done through internal notice boards, or direct discussion. For example, community noticeboards via different platforms advertising fitness groups, in person or virtual, or mindfulness groups.

Signposting to any available wellbeing program is crucial. A wellbeing program is often a vital resource that is there for the members of the organization. Leveraging this resource – and all services available through it – is a key step along the way to providing employees with the tools they need to build.

Promote employee empowerment.

There are several key factors related to employee happiness. But ultimately our goal is to create a sense of resilience and purpose. The more engaged we are, the more we contribute, and this is true across all levels of an organization. Purpose starts with definition, and defining what our values are and naming what we’re going to do and how we aim to improve is essential. Foster an attitude of gratitude through recognizing and rewarding employees at key moments. Bring about a sense of connectedness through authentic communication. Empower others through giving the needed tools to formulate coping strategies.

Working remotely has brought about a duality in which employees may find remote working more convenient practically but still feel isolated. But being remote doesn’t mean we have to be lost at sea. Where there is a will there is a way, and just as with the pandemic, and new ways of working – perhaps it’s more about seeing the opportunities within to find and utilise our strengths in connectedness.

Workplace Options helps individuals balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class member support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.


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