Report: Remote Work Loneliness Impacts Employees Negatively

New research suggests “work loneliness” caused by remote work negatively impacts employee well-being.

Stephanie Andel, an assistant professor of psychology in the School of Science at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, along with collaborators at York University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, recently published a study finding that feelings of work loneliness during the pandemic were associated with higher depression and fewer voluntary work behaviors. Their findings appear in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Study participants came from a range of industries, including manufacturing; technology, such as computer programming; retail; and education. The results are based on weekly from mid-March to mid-May 2020.

When people feel lonely, the study found, they experience more depressive symptoms, and they are less likely to go above and beyond in their jobs, such as helping a co-worker – something many organizations may have hoped their employees would do during the pandemic.

But there is hope – in the form of self-compassion. Andel and colleagues found self-compassion, or being kind to yourself during times of suffering, can mitigate some of the negative effects of work loneliness

People who reported having higher levels of self-compassion exhibited fewer depressive symptoms following feelings of work loneliness in comparison to those with lower levels of self-compassion. But they also engaged in fewer helping behaviors, which surprised the study’s authors.

Although self-compassion has been studied quite a bit in the field of clinical psychology, it has rarely been examined in the workplace context. Andel is optimistic about its potential to enhance the health and well-being of employees.

For companies that want to help their employees struggling right now with work loneliness, Andel provides these suggestions:

  • Provide consistent and clear communication to employees regarding the company’s response to the pandemic and be transparent about structural or financial changes that may affect employees’ job security or income.
  • Host virtual social gatherings for employees. These should not be mandatory, but rather voluntary social activities aimed at enhancing employee morale and promoting a sense of belonging among employees.
  • Create an organizational climate that promotes and encourages employee self-compassion.

For individuals who want to take the initiative themselves to enhance their own self-compassion, Andel suggests that in times of perceived failure or suffering, avoid negative self-talk and, instead, give yourself the same kindness and compassion you would give to a good friend.