Loneliness at work: it’s not just a remote working thing

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

Group of office employees walking

 

There has been a lot of focus on loneliness and isolation at work in relation to remote working, but remote workers who work from cafes or co-working spaces are less lonely than people who work in offices, a European Parliament roundtable session on “Modernising Europe’s Workforce Well-Being Strategy” heard this week.

The roundtable covered different aspects of wellbeing, with panelists agreeing that no one size fits all and that we are still exploring what works best.

The event kicked off 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 proposals on wellbeing. They include a commitment to making mental health as openly discussed as physical health, to flexibility and inclusivity, to leveraging technology for wellbeing, to a multi-stakeholder approach with wellbeing as a core business strategy, to proactive education about wellbeing, to measuring the impact of wellbeing initiative and to adaptability to fast-changing circumstances, including future health, economic or climate crises.

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

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

Loneliness

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

In fact, the highest rated work location in terms of social fulfilment was third space working – working remotely, but not from home, for instance, in co-working spaces or in cafes or other venues. Dr Noonan Hadley said this could be because they had more agency over where they worked and some people could work alongside their friends. Co-working spaces offered “an office environment without the negative downsides”, she said. She added that Covid had shown the importance of employees learning how to manage themselves better and understand how they work best, which she said stemmed from greater self-awareness.

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

The meeting ended with some words from MEP Dragos Pislaru, chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. He spoke about the importance of having a general European framework on the issues around modernising working and how different nations in the EU are implementing legislation to achieve this, including Belgium, which recently introduced a right for full-time workers to request a four-day work week as well as a right to disconnect, although the latter only applies to companies with more than 20 employees and does not cover all types of workers.



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