DR NJENGA: How to deal with loneliness at work

Loneliness is bad for your health in that it makes both your physical and mental health deteriorate.  PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Help! With remote working, some staff feel like they don't belong.

What you seek to restore is a sense of community and belonging in the way most humans are used to working. A little science will confirm that you are on the right track in your thinking.

As far back as 10 years, it was established that loneliness is bad for your health in that it makes both your physical and mental health deteriorate in a manner that surprised scientists. Not only are lonely people more likely to develop dementia, but they are also more likely to die sooner than those who are not so lonely. In other words, loneliness is the new killer, particularly for older people.

Many years ago, a similar study among older men confirmed that those men who lose wives after the age of 70 soon die of what was called, a broken heart. What, you might ask is the point of this information concerning your question? The reality is that being alone is not the same thing as being lonely in that some men and women choose to be alone for whatever reason and the mental health consequences are not any worse than those who live with people. It is, therefore, the feeling that one is alone in the same way that you put it in your question that problems arise. Actual or perceived loneliness is the real killer in this sense.

The pandemic has played havoc with the way the workplace has had to be arranged, in many parts of the world. Many organisations still insist that staff can remain at home and work from there, in the process missing the point that being at work for some people is the only chance they have of socialising, a very important activity among humans.

Denied this opportunity, some families have been put under extreme pressure and cases of domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse were noted to have increased during the pandemic. As you state so clearly, remote working shrunk employees’ world and of necessity reduced the avenues through which they were able to use the workplace as a fuse from the tensions so common in family settings.

Depending on the exact circumstances of the office you work in, it might be possible to allow some flexibility at the workplace, by allowing those who would rather come to the office to do so. This might be further made more flexible by asking them to work in the office in shifts that ensure that different teams get to mix and mingle with other teams.

Now that we are all able to work virtually, perhaps we can also mix and mingle virtually a little more while not working. In this regard, you might surprise yourself with the feedback you might get if you float the idea among your colleagues. Those of us in mental health have learnt a lesson or two about working remotely and now routinely work with our patients who opt for this type of consultation. This I might say is the silver lining to the dark cloud of Covid-19.

Dr Njenga is a psychiatrist and mental health consultant who has authored several scientific papers and books.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.