We know that loneliness can be both the driver for and a product of poor mental health, and that it affects many of us at one time or another.
Our society and workplaces have changed in recent years. Employers and colleagues have embraced flexible ways of working for the better, allowing for greater face time with our friends, family, and housemates outside of work – but what has this meant for our connections at work?
To understand more, Mental Health UK has teamed up with YouGov on an online new study into workers’ experiences of loneliness at work right now across Britain.
According to figures released today, one in five (20%) of us feel lonely at work on a typical working day. Significantly, those aged 18-24 are twice as likely to feel lonely at work than others (39% vs 18%). In fact, the older the age group polled, the lower their likelihood of feeling lonely in the workplace.
- 1 in 5 of us (20%) feel lonely at work
- Almost a quarter of workers (23%) agreed that feeling lonely at work has affected their mental health
- Almost half of workers (46%) said they would not feel confident letting a colleague know that they felt lonely or isolated at work
- 60% of UK workers have had in-person interaction or meeting with their colleagues in the past three months
How age affects loneliness at work
Our research paints a stark picture of the differing experiences of loneliness at work by age group.
Almost a quarter of workers (23%) told us that feeling lonely at work has affected their mental health. When we dissect that figure by age, 41% of 18–24-year-old workers and 30% of 25–34-year-old workers agreed that loneliness at work has affected their mental health, in contrast to 17% of those aged 45-54 and 15% of those aged 55+.
Workers aged 45-54 feel most confident letting colleagues know when they’re feeling lonely or isolated at work (49%), while 59% of workers aged 18-25 do not feel confident letting colleagues know when they’re feeling lonely or isolated at work – just 34% do.
A new normal for our working patterns?
During the pandemic, we were encouraged to work from home unless we could not do so. According to our polling, just under half of workers (46%) have a fixed working location (such as an office), while 23% are ‘hybrid’ or ‘agile’ workers (i.e. a mixture of home and location-based working), 18% are home based (i.e. working from home full-time), and 9% are field based (i.e. based away from home, but at a variety of locations).
Regionally, fixed location working is most common in the Midlands (54%), home working is most common in Wales (23%) and hybrid or agile working is most common in London (35%).
Are you a manager looking for guidance around supporting colleagues with different working arrangements? Check our new articles on supporting home and hybrid workers and creating inclusive workplaces.
Our connections at work
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that our contact time with fellow colleagues is currently relatively low – 60% of workers have had in-person interactions or meetings with their colleagues in the past three months.
Overall, in-person interactions or meetings with colleagues (66%) or in-person social activities and events outside of work (29%) are most common amongst the 25-34 group of workers. In person social activities or events with colleagues within work hours are most common with 18-24s (25%). Most workers appear to have connected virtually with colleagues in the past three months – but this is mostly amongst those aged 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54, depending on which category we polled for (i.e. types of interaction).
When asked about the factors which could impact on peoples’ mental health at work, 45% of workers agreed that ‘lack of contact time with my immediate team’ could, while 43% agreed that ‘the cost of engaging with my colleagues physically’ could, and 42% agreed that ‘lack of contact time with my line manager or senior leader’ could.
Younger workers agreed more strongly that lack of contact time with colleagues could impact on their mental health at work.
- 54% of workers aged 25-34 agreed ‘lack of contact time with their line manager or senior leader’ could impact on their mental health at work
- 55% of workers aged 18-24 and aged 25-34 agreed ‘lack of contact time with their immediate team’ could impact on their mental health at work
- 52% of workers aged 18-24 agreed ‘lack of contact time with colleagues outside of their immediate team’ could impact on their mental health at work
- 49% of workers aged 18-24 and aged 25-34 agreed ‘lack of physical space to work from and/or meet colleagues (e.g. an office) ’ could impact on their mental health at work
Looking for more information on building meaningful connections in the workplace? Get involved with our ‘Let’s Connect!’ campaign.
Talking about loneliness at work
When asked about the factors that could prevent them from talking about loneliness at work, 53% agreed ‘Lack of own time or capacity within work hours to discuss this with others’, while 50% agreed that ‘a culture at work which does not actively encourage people to talk about mental health’ and ‘feeling that my line manager or senior leader does not have time to meet with me, or won’t be able to support me’ as key reasons that could prevent them from opening up about the topic at work.
According to our study, those based in the South (22%) tend to be the loneliest at work, while those in Wales (84% not lonely) tend to be less lonely. Meanwhile, 28% of workers in the Midlands and 25% in the South and Scotland agreed loneliness at work has affected their mental health.
51% of workers in Wales felt confident letting a colleague at work know when they’re feeling lonely or isolated, while 37% did not. In contrast, 53% of people in the Midlands do not feel confident letting a colleague at work know when they’re feeling lonely or isolated, compared with 40% who did feel confident.
Visit our new information page on loneliness at work for guidance on how to support your colleagues.Learn more
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,023 adults of which 1,105 were workers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st – 22nd April 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
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