Loneliness has been on the rise in recent years, which perhaps isn’t much of a surprise given our increasingly online worlds, a cost of living crisis scuppering our social lives and the aftermath of a good few lockdowns thanks to our old friend COVID-19.
And it’s certainly not a topic that HR leaders can afford to brush under the office carpet, with many studies highlighting clear links between loneliness and poor mental and physical health.
Our latest report on Workplace Connections revealed that managers of medium and large teams are some of the loneliest members of the workforce in 2023. With that in mind, we wanted to highlight the reasons why managers might be feeling lonely and present 4 strategies for HR leaders to combat loneliness.
Loneliness in the workplace
We reached out to 1,000 employees and 1,000 HR leaders across the UK to better understand loneliness in the workplace. The findings highlighted that 2 in 3 people do not feel a sense of connection and belonging at work, and 1 in 4 experience loneliness either frequently or very frequently.
People are feeling lonely and disconnected at work. And the research shows us that managers with teams of 11 or more people are the ones that are significantly more likely to feel this sense of loneliness and disconnection.
In fact, 36% of managers with teams of 11 or more reported feeling this way, compared to just 20% of employees.
So what happens when an organisation has an increasingly lonely management team?
The negative impacts of a disconnected manager can be serious – our research found that they have reduced levels of empathy and ultimately find it difficult to connect with team members. As a result, their direct reports experience higher rates of burnout and attrition.
Why are managers feeling lonely?
Let’s take a moment to consider what might be causing this worrying trend.
There’s no avoiding the fact that many managers with 11 or more direct reports have high workloads and are required to handle a lot of pressure.
Moving into a leadership position brings new challenges and responsibilities, one of the most understated being the change in relationships as former colleagues become direct reports. New managers can struggle with this change of dynamic as they’re suddenly responsible for a team while the support offered to them typically reduces.
Leadership isolation is often exacerbated by managers feeling unable to discuss personal matters or socialise with their teams, which can become a barrier to building meaningful social connections. Despite this, having a social network alone does not solve loneliness. Our research showed that 74% of managers said they had a social community or support network at work, compared to just 64% of employees. So what would have more of an impact?
4 strategies to combat manager loneliness
Most of the guidance published on workplace loneliness is centred around the actions leaders can take to support their team members, so we’ve compiled 4 evidence-based strategies that will help HR teams combat loneliness in managers:
Establish mentoring programmes
Mentoring programmes are incredibly beneficial to the mentee, mentor and organisation overall. The programmes help mentees develop skills, build confidence and gain insights from an experienced professional. They also enable mentors to advance their leadership expertise and build connections on a deeper level. Mentors have even been shown to experience career rejuvenation and personal fulfillment from seeing their mentees' progression.
Establishing a programme, ideally where managers can participate both as a mentee and a mentor, is a great way to reduce manager loneliness.
Develop targeted manager communications
Sharing targeted internal communications with the management team is an important strategy to help reduce feelings of loneliness.
Audience segmentation is critical for effective internal communication as each employee group has different needs, priorities and preferences. Introducing specific channels for managers such as a Leadership Zone within your employee platform or a monthly management newsletter helps create a sense of community and connection between managers.
Use these channels to put manager recognition in the spotlight, share high-level company updates and acknowledge challenges being faced by the management community.
Schedule some face time
Encouraging managers to start their meetings with a few moments of light conversation can be a great way to build meaningful connections, benefitting both employees and managers. Rather than jumping straight to business, taking five minutes to chat and share personal stories enables managers and their team members to get to know each other on a deeper level.
Investing time in building this kind of connection not only helps to combat manager loneliness but also creates stronger and more united teams. Having good quality connections with colleagues is even associated with a higher quality of work and greater engagement.
Focus on manager mental wellbeing
Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, but even the most experienced managers struggle to help others when they need help and support themselves.
All too often, organisations focus solely on employee wellbeing; training managers to have difficult conversations and direct their team members to the supports on offer. But we also need to make it clear to managers that it’s ok for them to talk about their own mental health challenges with leaders, and ensure they understand the support programmes available.
Discover how to build better connections with your workforce by getting in touch with our team of engagement experts today.