In an increasingly connected world, why are we hearing that people feel increasingly more alone? Whether in the office, at home with the baby, or working remotely, more people are experiencing feelings of loneliness. As the majority of our lawyers at Obelisk work flexibly, many remotely, we look at some of the data and causes, and how we can tackle this creeping sense of isolation.
Working Life and Loneliness
Our modern working culture has changed the way we socialise – spending the majority of our time in the office, often commuting far from our local area, means our social life often revolves around colleagues and peers who have a similar working day to socialise around. We move to where the work and schools are, rather than stay within the communities our families once grew up through generations in, so we are less likely to form a bond with our neighbours.
So, once our lives change and we suddenly find ourselves outside of the work circle, through maternity leave, a career break or a change to remote flexible working, we can start to feel isolated.
New parents are understandably one of the most susceptible groups to feelings of loneliness – 80% of mothers surveyed by Mush admitted as much. Much like retirees, the sudden displacement from work routine and social life can leave them feeling they are removed from their usual support circle.
It’s not just those who choose to stop working for an extended period. Both office and remote workers are experiencing similar level of loneliness. Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work found 21% of remote workers see loneliness as their biggest struggle.
Office workers also struggle. Though they might meet and speak with dozens of people a day through their profession, time pressures and work culture may mean they aren’t able to form a personal bond with many people they work with. A long-hours culture – working through break times, skipping the after work socialising due to having to catch a train to make it home for the kid’s bedtime – reduces the opportunities to connect with colleagues and associates.
A Growing Concern
This all shows that loneliness is not confined to certain groups; both workplace and general loneliness are a growing condition of our existence.
Life is increasingly busy both at work and at home – a recent report found that the amount of unpaid household tasks we are doing in the UK has increased by 80% since 2005. We get so bogged down with things we must do, we lose appreciation of the simple pleasure of having nothing in our schedule, and using that time to reconnect with others.
Loneliness is having a profoundly negative effect on our wellbeing and how we work. A Gallup study, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, found 30% of respondents with a ‘best friend’ at work were 7 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Loneliness can affect our ability to self-regulate, and impact on physical aspects of our wellbeing including blood pressure, the immune system and cognitive ability.
The Paradox of Social Technology
Social media and communication apps that are meant to bring people closer are perhaps encouraging complacency. We have all the ways and means in the world to send a quick message and see people’s public updates, but this means we don’t think to stop and check in properly on how someone’s life is going behind the scenes. We see others sharing photos of group holidays and work events, and it seems like we are even more alone with our lonely feelings.
Of course, we should know deep down what we see isn’t the whole truth. In a world of keeping up appearances, no one wants to admit they are feeling lonely, for fear of coming across vulnerable – we are fine; we are living the dream of doing what we want when we want! Thanks to pluralistic ignorance, no one wants to admit they are struggling because they believe they are the only ones feeling that way, and so the cycle continues.
How to Combat Feelings of Loneliness
Don’t compare yourself to others
As hard as it may be, try to resist comparing yourself to the outside view of other people. Choose to follow more warts-and-all social media accounts that aren’t afraid to show vulnerability and the other side of the picture. This will help when sharing feelings of your own to others, as it serves to prove that there are many people out there in the same boat.
Do some good in your community
Positive action, even if you’re starting out alone, will soon attract other likeminded people. Find a local community club, cause or online group for something you are passionate about. Not only will you be contributing something worthwhile, it will boost your own confidence and help you get outside of your own head for a while.
Take time to say ‘hello’
Not every conversation has to be deep and personal to give you a little boost for the day. Slow down and take the time to talk to people you may see regularly but never interact with for more than a couple of seconds. Be it in a park, at the shop, or on public transport, the longer you sit or stay somewhere, you’ll be surprised at how many friendly conversations can take place – yes, even in London!
Advice for New Parents
Join local online communities – It’s hard to get out and about with a new baby, and there’s very little time or energy to put into much else, so you may need to find other ways to combat loneliness. Local online support groups and parenting forums can go a long way to help.
Be neighbourly – If you live near other houses, try to get to know some neighbours. Stay at home mothers, retirees, self-employed people who may be home in the daytime can be a huge help and provide a range of different insights and experiences.
Advice for Remote Workers
Make more phone calls – It’s all too easy to send a message when time poor, and especially so when you’re finding it hard to pick up the phone due to feeling vulnerable. Taking that first deep breath and talking to people on a regular basis really does work wonders. A message about one thing starts and ends on that subject alone, whereas with a conversation, you never know where it might lead, making the interaction altogether more stimulating and valuable.
Schedule the time – If you are not good at keeping in touch, put contacting and meeting people into your diary as you would with work deadlines and conference calls.
Choose clients carefully as a freelancer – If you can, try to choose to work with teams who value communication and human connection, and understand the challenges of remote working and the need to be connected to the organisation on a deeper level.
Advice for Office Workers
Ask others how they are feeling – The chances are that you are not the only one feeling this way, so look out for other people too. Ask them how they are doing, how they are getting on with their current caseload or particular clients. We all need an opportunity to vent at work from time to time and (as long as it’s kept professional!) can help us bond with colleagues.
Address the office culture – Feelings of isolation are likely to be due to something wrong with the organisational culture. There may be a lack of investment in social events and team cohesion, so focus on addressing the problem by suggesting events and activities that encourage better collaboration and interaction with colleagues.
At Obelisk Support we all have had experience of feeling isolated in our working lives. With a flexible core team and network of remote consultants we work tirelessly to keep in touch, organise events and create a culture that helps individuals feel continually supported and cared for. If you have any thoughts on tackling loneliness as a consultant or lawyer on a career break, we want to hear from you.