Wildgoose survey finds UK employees lonelier than ever

June 10, 2021

Paris Stevens

Young woman sitting with computer on couch, looking outside

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Our study into friendship in the workplace has revealed the impact of working from home on personal connections in the office. 1 in 20 employees starting a new job while working from home have found it hard to make colleague friendships. This is equivalent to over 300,000 employees struggling to integrate and make friends in a new role.

Our 2021 Friends & Happiness in the Workplace Survey asked employees from 1,052 UK companies about their work friendships, what they meant to them and how companies can encourage them.

The survey findings come after a government ‘Employers and loneliness’ report, which highlights the cost of loneliness to UK employers – estimated to be £2.5 billion every year. For individuals, the cost of severe loneliness – due to reduced wellbeing, health and productivity – has been estimated at £9,900 per year, according to the Loneliness Monetisation Report conducted for the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

Decision makers and HR teams are being encouraged to improve colleague connections as the country moves into a hybrid working model, with a mixture of people working from home and the office.

For those who have a ‘best friend’ at work, the research highlights clear benefits:

  • Almost two-thirds (57%) of respondents say it makes work more enjoyable
  • For companies, 22% believe it means they are equally or more productive
  • 21% say having a best friend at work makes them more creative
  • 12% of people are less likely to leave a company where they have friends.

With hybrid working set to continue, HR teams can play a pivotal role in tackling loneliness by creating time and space for regular connections between colleagues. London companies are being urged to adopt measures to tackle loneliness in the capital.

Why do employees want to tackle loneliness and make colleague connections?

Workplace happiness and friendship is a big priority for most London employees - 57% stated that they would choose happiness over salary in their place of work. There was also found to be tangible benefits of encouraging social connections and friendships in the workplace is employee loyalty – one in seven London-based employees are less likely to accept a position elsewhere if they have friends at work.

Despite scoring lowest on friendships at work in the survey, London employees were among the most eager to take part in workplace socials. 88% expect social events at their place of work, over half (51%) would attend monthly after-work drinks and a quarter (25%) would enjoy a ‘team-building’ weekend away.

Here were the most popular options for socialising with colleagues:

  • Work drinks were most popular – 51%
  • Office breakout area – 32%
  • Team-building weekend away – 25%

Employees in London favoured office breakout areas more than people in most other parts of the UK, suggesting that London is ready to go back to the office, at least part-time under a hybrid working model.

Survey data from London is part of a wider study on the whole of the UK. Our 2017 Friends & Happiness in the Workplace Survey was also conducted nationwide, allowing us to see how workplace friendships have changed throughout the UK.

UK companies are now lonelier places, with 40% of employees without workplace friendships – up 3% from four years ago. Also, people are now more eager to build friendships at work, with 15% feeling this desire, compared to 10% in 2017.

The way forward

As people around the country return to offices, organisations need to respond to the demand for more face-to-face interaction. Team-building events companies can help by facilitating in-person and outdoor activities, such as the Urban Explorer activity and the James Bond-styled Treasure Hunt.

Commenting on the findings, Wildgoose managing director Jonny Edser says:

“It’s only natural that people want to get out and socialise in person after lockdowns, especially in London, where socialising is at the heart of working life and there are so many places to go. I think we’ve all had enough of being indoors and people will be looking forward to seeing colleagues in person again. It’s a return to normality.

“Some people have started jobs without meeting their new colleagues, which must be especially tough. Hopefully those people can now get to know their new workmates properly. And companies need to realise that face-to-face social events play a huge role in that, particularly when people have lacked social interaction in their everyday lives.

“For many people, what’s been missing is the chance to have fun with colleagues, rather than just focusing on work. Our activities take people away from reality and let them focus on nothing other than having fun, outdoors, with workmates. We see it every day: getting employees together to do something completely different helps them to reconnect.”

Gill Brabner, FCIPD and OD specialist and CEO at Resound Training, says:

“My advice to HR teams would be this: don’t wait for signs of loneliness. Encourage managers to check in regularly with their team members and to take an active interest in their whole lives – know the individuals and what is important to them. Be friendly and warm. Demonstrate empathy and care. Encourage all employees to reconnect with their wider networks across the organisation – to talk to colleagues beyond their immediate team.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on issues of loneliness and this includes people in work who previously would have benefited from social time with colleagues. This is exacerbated for those who live on their own. It’s also a difficult time to join a new organisation when the onboarding is 100% virtual.

“Focus on bringing the human elements into work – set up, manage and facilitate online networking forums – when community forums are run well, they can bring a great social element to work. Encourage leaders and managers to use video and show their human side, be vulnerable and let staff know they care. Don’t just build a business – build a community and a work family.”

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