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Career Advice

Lonely at work? What to do when feeling isolated

Posted by Jill Cotton

Career Trends Expert

Last Updated 22 Mar 2023
|4 min read

Feeling part of a strong workplace culture can improve an employee's productivity, boost their engagement within a role and increase morale. But new insights from Glassdoor's Economic Research Team found that discussion around employee loneliness has jumped 11%* since working from home guidance was scrapped in January 2022 - creeping up to the highest levels since the first national lockdown in March 2020. Moreover, employees are struggling to build meaningful connections at work, with positive mentions of ‘social life’ decreasing 39% since 2020.

To understand the levels of loneliness amongst employees, a new Glassdoor study** lays bare the impact of a poor workplace social life and why friendships at work are crucial to retaining staff.

Isolation nation: key findings

  • 6 in 10 people with less than five years of work experience are lonely all or most of the time.
  • 28% of workers under 35 would stay in a job they didn't like if the workplace social life was good.
  • 25% of employees of all ages want to socialise more with coworkers.
  • Only 1 in 2 (51%) employees connect socially with colleagues at least once a month.
  • 89% believe a sense of belonging is vital for workplace satisfaction.
  • Nearly half of all workers (49%) say a good social life has a significant impact on their overall job satisfaction and mental health.

"Cultivating a positive workplace culture is not a 'nice-to-have'. If employers want to keep talent, they must address the shocking loneliness felt particularly by younger workers." says Glassdoor’s career trends expert Jill Cotton. "Glassdoor's research demonstrates employees long to feel part of a workplace community and see a good work social life as an indicator of a company they want to stay with. The shift to remote and hybrid work has transformed our social connections with colleagues, and companies and employees must adapt to these changes."

What causes workplace loneliness?

Three years after the first covid lockdowns, Glassdoor's research indicates workplace social lives are yet to recover, with 1 in 4 people saying companies are more antisocial now than they were pre-pandemic.

There's no single cause of loneliness, but common reasons for feeling isolated at work include:

  • Changes in a team force employees to develop new workplace relationships.
  • Less in-person interaction with coworkers.
  • Inflexibility in the workplace or an overly strict manager.
  • Sharing few common interests with colleagues and feeling excluded from existing cliques.
  • Insufficient support from your line manager.
  • A lack of focus on creating a sense of belonging or community by your employer.

What are the signs of loneliness in the workplace?

Loneliness can silently creep up  and can be easy to hide if you work remotely. Common signs that you might be feeling lonely in the workplace include:

  • Decreased engagement with your role.
  • Little interaction with coworkers.
  • All conversations are strictly business, with few pleasantries.
  • Lack of interest in meetings.
  • Loss of focus on developing your career.

Why are workplace friendships important?

Just 1 in 2 employees connect socially with a coworker at least once a month, and 18% admit they haven't socialised with a colleague in the last year. So are workplace friendships worth the effort?

The study overwhelmingly found that without a good workplace social life, workers are more likely to be less productive, less engaged, and more likely to fall victim to stress, anxiety and ultimately burnout. 

Most (89%) workers believe feeling a sense of belonging with their company is vital to their overall workplace happiness. Eight in 10 (83%) think workplace friendships are crucial, and 85% want to build meaningful relationships with coworkers.

In addition, nearly half (49%) of all workers say a good workplace social life significantly impacts their mental health and future with the company (38%).

How to deal with loneliness at work

Most people will experience workplace loneliness at some point in their careers, but managing it can be easy.

Firstly, be honest with yourself, acknowledge how important a workplace social life is for you personally, and seek out like-minded colleagues. If your company isn't meeting your social needs, reach out to a teammate or your line manager.

Mix up how you work to understand the cause of your loneliness. Create opportunities to work with new people or on different projects, or experiment with a new work schedule to test how this might impact your feelings.

If suitable social connections are missing from your workplace, look further afield. Fishbowl by Glassdoor is a free community platform that makes it easier for professionals to connect with others in your company, those working in similar jobs, in your wider industry or simply those with shared professional interests.

*Methodology:  Glassdoor Economic Research team analysed over a million reviews by full and part-time employees for total mentions of the words ‘loneliness’ between Feb 2021 and Jan 2023, and positive mentions of ‘community’ between Feb 2019-Jan 2020 and Feb 2022-Jan 2023. ** In addition, Glassdoor surveyed 2,000 UK people in full-time employment between 3-8 March 2023 about their social lives at work and feelings of loneliness.