The role of the workplace in combatting loneliness

The number of adults in England who feel lonely has been on the rise since 2017, but the last year has unsurprisingly accelerated the increase. Between 2019 and 2020, loneliness in England jumped by 44% from 2.6 million people to 3.7 million as the population was forced to stay at home and socialising in professional and personal capacities became digital.

The increase in loneliness coincides with a general decline in wellbeing, which has been in motion since before the pandemic and exacerbated by lockdowns and restrictions. These red flags around general wellbeing in the population have led to calls to measure national progress in wellbeing via the gross domestic wellbeing (GDWe) index, rather than traditional metrics such as GDP.

For many people, working from home has brought about lifestyle changes that promote a better work-life balance meaning flexible, hybrid working looks like it now has a permanent place in society, but with this, there is the potential for employees to become isolated.

Following the lifting of restrictions and the return to the workplace, employers should consider the role that their office or central space has in combatting loneliness among employees and supporting their overall wellbeing.

As we move forwards, the workplace needs to become something more than simply a place to work as many people have discovered that they can effectively work from outside it. The workplace now needs to be a place for colleagues to be together, to collaborate and to socialise. Viewing it in this way and encouraging employees to think of the workplace as more than that will help to promote social interaction and minimise loneliness.

Rather than asking employees to come into work on specific days, employers could encourage them to come in for specific events. This could be work-related, for example, a team brainstorm, learning session or company catch up, or entirely social, perhaps a special lunch or post-work drinks.

By doing this, the workplace offers something extra that they don’t get at home. Offices will then move away from being a place for stress and towards being a place to interact with others, encouraging workers to spend less time alone.

Using the workplace as a social work hub will improve overall company culture, as employees have the opportunity to bond outside the boundaries of work. As well as keeping loneliness among colleagues to a minimum, promoting a social, friendly culture will improve engagement and job satisfaction.

Loneliness is a difficult feeling for people to process and can have an incredibly negative effect on overall mental health and wellbeing. Although restrictions have lifted and many people are socialising regularly again, the new hybrid working world may make it easy for people to isolate themselves from their colleagues, heightening feelings of loneliness. Putting measures in place to keep workforces cohesive and social is a great step to take in supporting employee wellbeing and combatting loneliness.

Why demanding that young people return to the office isn’t the answer

Chancellor Rishi Sunak made headlines this week when he publicly aired his view that young people should return to the office, or risk damaging their long-term career prospects. For better or worse, these comments have sparked a great deal of debate across both employers and wider society, with public opinion divided across the board.

So, is encouraging younger workers – and, indeed, the workforce in general – back to the office en masse the answer? As with so many aspects of employee wellbeing, the answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no.

There are without doubt many benefits to having members of the team in the office full-time, such as collaboration, creativity and overall workplace culture, which is naturally crucial for long-term engagement and success. However, for many employees there is also an opportunity cost to full-time office-based working and, indeed, many staff also saw a number of benefits from working remotely – which will be difficult to give up. For example, our recent Global Working from Home Survey found that staff were almost universally sleeping better with no commute to contend with, scoring this affirmation 8.6 out of 10.

Factoring in other benefits such as staff being able to tailor workspaces to their own needs, less need to arrange childcare and being able to save money on everyday expenses such as office lunches, and it becomes clear that a blunt-force approach to enforcing office-based working will not sit well with all.

For staff to return to the office, therefore, there must be some kind of incentive for them to do so – employers must provide more of the carrot, and less of the stick. For starters, the office could, and should, become more than simply a place to work, which we now know can be achieved just as effectively as at home in many cases. Employers should position the workplace as more of a hub in which teams can come together, collaborate and socialise, creating working experiences that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Rather than asking employees to come into work on specific days, employers could encourage them to come in for specific events, such as a lunchtime learning session, a team brainstorm, or even a more social event such as a teambuilding day or post-work drinks.

By doing this, the workplace offers staff something extra that they don’t get at home. Offices will then move away from being a burden to work from and more towards being a place staff actually want to visit because of the wellness benefits the workplace offers them – not merely because they feel they have to.

Looking outside the office, the daily commute – a recurrent pain point for staff – could also change. According to new research from transport technology specialist Kura, almost a third of employees (32.4%) spend more than an hour each day commuting to and from work each day, which is time many would prefer to spend with loved ones, pursuing personal passions, or organising life admin – not to mention the significant financial cost of commuting.

Given this, businesses that expect staff to return to the office could consider factoring commuting-related perks, such as season ticket loans and flexible working to beat the rush-hour traffic, into their overall benefits package. On this note, it may also be advisable to offer coaching to help employees with their personal finances, to help offset the increased costs of commuting and office life. For example, businesses could consider offering a savings programme, such as Wrkit’s Lifestyle Savings, to help employees spend less money.

Overall, moving forwards there will be no one-size-fits-all approach to either working patterns or employee wellness more widely, and businesses should not seek one. In order to ensure healthier, happier workplaces long-term, employees must be offered flexibility in how they work, as well as how they are supported, rewarded and recognised for the work they do.

To find out more about WRKIT’s suite of wellbeing and engagement products, please visit: https://wrkit.com/products/

Prevention over cure: Avoiding mental health problems as employees readjust

After more than a year of lockdown restrictions, it is no surprise that many people are raring to get back to normal life again, but that is not the case for everyone. As people start to use workplaces more often, perhaps as before or perhaps now adopting a hybrid model, employers need to keep in mind that their employees will be going through another huge life adjustment, and this may be taxing on mental health.

By acknowledging the extra pressures, including health-related anxiety, that will be on employees as they transition back to life in the workplace, employers must be supportive and stay one step ahead to prevent more serious mental health issues from arising down the line.

When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, prevention is always favourable over cure. As problems progress, they get more complicated to resolve, more challenging for the person experiencing them and can lead to an impact on the business if a person needs to take time off as a result.

With this in mind, here are some steps employers can take to ensure they are taking care of their employees’ mental wellbeing in the return to the office.

Provide suitable self-care resources

A simple way to ensure staff are taking care of their own mental wellbeing is providing or signposting to resources such as self-help activities, meditation, or resilience training. These give employees mechanisms to help themselves at the first hint of mental turmoil and resources such as resilience training may prevent those feelings from arising at all in the first place.

Wrkit’s Wellbeing product, POWR, is designed to empower workers to proactively manage their mental and physical health. It provides plans across life, mind, work, food, activity and sleep to offer holistic, preventative support for employees.

When used in conjunction with the Surveys product, which bypasses conscious bias to measure how people actually feel, the POWR platform becomes an incredibly useful tool as the surveys can pick up on issues that the person is not yet fully aware of.


These surveys can flag when it looks like someone might need professional support to get their wellbeing back on track, and access to these professionals is the next thing employers need to consider in the return to the workplace.

Mental health first aiders and professional care

Not all issues will be able to be resolved through self-help, so all businesses should have measures in place for when problems progress.

This could be in the form of colleagues who volunteer to train as mental health first aiders or giving employees access to professional counselling and therapy. If a problem has developed to the point of needing support from a professional, it is still important to get help as soon as possible.

Access to professional support should be proactively communicated so that employees do not have to ask a member of the HR team or a line manager as this could put people off seeking help. Being open about how employees can access help should they need it will begin to establish a company culture in which people are not ashamed or worried to admit that they are struggling, which is really important in overall employee wellbeing.

Creating an open and honest culture

By creating a culture in which mental health issues of all scales are normalised, employees will feel more comfortable turning to their colleagues for support. They will also feel like their company cares about them and wants them to get better, rather than feeling like it is something that they must hide for fear of judgment.

An atmosphere that accepts that a huge number of people face struggles with their mental wellbeing will empower people to get the help they need earlier on, once again supporting the idea that prevention is the best cure.

Take work-life balance inspiration from the pandemic

The pandemic has proved that, on the whole, people can be trusted to be productive when not in an office and when not necessarily working standard nine to five hours. Better work-life balance will improve overall employee wellness and engagement, boosting productivity and job satisfaction.

Employers should take inspiration from this and, when possible, allow employees to take control over their work-life balance by working flexible hours or from home if they want to.

These kinds of policies and measures tell employees that their employers are invested in their wellbeing and are there to support them when needed. Making people feel valued in their jobs and having outstanding support for when mental wellbeing does take a dip are both critical factors in improving employee wellness and should be central as people readjust to life back in the workplace.

Celebrating the athletes destigmatising mental health leave

Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of the Olympic team gymnastics finals to focus on her mental health makes her the most recent in a spate of athletes dismantling the stigma around putting themselves and their mental wellbeing above their career.

During the tennis season, we saw Naomi Osaka drop out of the French Open because of the effect press conferences have on her wellbeing and Emma Raducanu withdraw from Wimbledon following breathing difficulties, possibly a symptom of an anxiety attack, during her match.

Although there has been some backlash, especially in the case of Biles and Osaka who have openly cited mental health issues, all three athletes have received a general outpouring of support and blown open the conversation around prioritising mental health over work.

Most of us are not on an international stage at work, but mental health issues can still affect anyone. It is time for mental wellbeing related sick leave to be destigmatised. The past year has been difficult for everyone and has highlighted the importance of employers being compassionate and understanding of issues surrounding mental wellbeing.

Everyone can learn from Osaka, Biles and Raducanu and the support that their sponsors and coaches have shown them. By accepting mental health problems and allowing employees to take time off as they would with a physical illness, employers can help employees rest and access the help that they need early on before matters deteriorate further.

As well as early intervention minimising the amount of time the employee may need to take off work, these actions will make them feel valued and cared for in a time of need, boosting job satisfaction and reinforcing that mental health problems are common and not something to feel ashamed of.

Elite athletes and regular employees all face pressure and expectations, and this can take a serious toll on mental health. We live in an era with a scientific understanding of mental health issues that proves that they are as valid as physical ailments. Going forwards, this needs to be reflected by employers all over the world as ensuring employee mental wellbeing is protected and understood is far more effective than forcing people to lie or work through it, and we should all be celebrating the athletes helping to promote this.

Ending Discrimination Culture in the Workplace

In her bestselling book You Do You(ish), TEDx speaker and career coach, Erin Hatzikostas, wrote: “Stop seeing it as office politics and start seeing it as office partnerships.”

Such a sentiment is borne out by research by the organisation Women in Banking and Finance (WIBF), who as part of their strategic plan have a Men As Allies strand, recently tasked with finding potential steps to take to improve gender balance in the office.

The business case for gender balance in leadership roles is compelling. As McKinsey’s 2018 study Delivering Through Diversity showed, companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

Well go figure! Long ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton, no less, said: “When women participate in the economy everyone benefits.”

New research by LSE and WIBF has shone more light on this subject. Interviews with 79 City of London women revealed that they felt they needed to show sustained excellence in order to progress; faced more scrutiny than male peers; and mediocre male managers were blocking their development because they were more adept at office politics.

A quarter of the women in the survey were black who said they needed to work harder to receive the same recognition as men and white women. McKinsey’s 2018 study also found that for ethnic and cultural diversity, top-quartile companies were 33% more likely to outperform on profitability. This confirms that diversity is correlated to financial performance.

A shift must happen. Board rooms and senior leadership teams need to be more representative to help inspire future generations of talent by building in diversity from the ground up. It will help dispel workplace toxicity.

There are a number of different strategies that can also be adopted, including sourcing talent from diverse educational institutions; rethinking essential requirements in job descriptions to avoid deterring applicants; and working with recruiters or talent sourcing companies with shared values.

A workplace with an underlying culture of discrimination is storing up trouble. It will be difficult to recruit and retain talent and attract and keep business, investment or customers. Mediocre managers, male or female, fuel the fire. They create barriers to open communication and inclusivity when employees should be able to speak up, share their views, offer ideas, be valued, recognised and rewarded, which engenders a positive company culture – but only if leadership acts on it. Peer to peer recognition is also statistically proven to have a positive effect on employee performance and happiness.

Earlier this year Wrkit, spoke to a female business leader about her experience. She advised mentoring between genders and female-female to unlock impact and create alliances. She concluded: “Leaders, whether male or female, need to open the doors wider to give women that chance to prove themselves. When we do this more often, I believe the culture will be enriched for our doing so.”

Will the reopening bring an increase in financial anxiety?

For many employees, the last year and a half has seen a significant reduction in the amount of work-related expenditure, such as commuting and buying lunch when in the office. As well as this, the enforced closure of leisure, retail and hospitality means that spending outside of work may also have decreased.

As the UK reopens at various paces, there is likely to be financial worries on the horizon as people need to pay for their petrol or public transport to get to the workplace, food when they are at work in addition to having money to live and rebuild social lives.

Financial stress can hit anyone at any point – for some it has been a constant throughout the pandemic, and anxieties around money can have a direct impact on overall mental health and wellbeing. As we navigate another huge change to people’s lives, employers need to know how they can support their staff if money troubles arise in the coming weeks and months.

Let employees know you are there to help

Fostering a culture within your workplace in which employees know they can have confidential and non-judgmental conversations with the HR team or equivalent, should they be facing financial problems is essential in supporting employees.

Communicate to employees that you understand what they may be going through and inform them that there are people that they can trust ready to listen and help whenever they need it.

Offer financial wellness and personal finance training

Providing on-demand resources or seminar-style training sessions on personal finance management will help employees to manage their money more effectively, leading to a more positive mindset when dealing with finances.

If employees feel like they are more financially secure, their overall satisfaction and mental health can improve and they are more likely to feel satisfied, valued and fairly paid in their job.

Implement a savings benefits programme

By adding a savings programme, such as Wrkit’s Lifestyle Savings, to your benefits offering, you can actively help employees to spend less money. Savings can be made on both essential, practical expenses, such as fuel and insurance, and lifestyle costs such as travel, fashion and entertainment.

A savings programme is a simple benefit to offer to employees that will make them feel like their employer is taking care of them outside of work, improving overall job satisfaction.

Financial struggles can be incredibly detrimental to people’s mental health, and by recognising this and acknowledging that the ending of current Covid restrictions could exacerbate these types of issues, employers will go a long way in protecting their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

Why learning opportunities are an essential employee benefit

Giving employees learning and development opportunities is something that will not only benefit employees but also businesses. By giving workers the chances and tools to constantly upskill, they can build on existing skills and learn new ones, helping them to excel in current roles and progress within the business. In addition to this, championing employee development will make staff feel engaged, motivated and supported, driving satisfaction and retention.

Research from professional services giant, Deloitte, found that 14% of millennials and 19% of Gen Z in 2021 are concerned about the education, skills and training opportunities available to them following the pandemic, increased by 8% and 46% respectively from the previous year. As these generations are the ones firms need to appeal to now and in the coming years to recruit, it is crucial that they are implementing employee benefits offerings and opportunities that recognise and cater to millennial and Gen Z concerns and preferences.

Learning is now more important than ever, in part due to the younger generations’ desires, but also because the pandemic has caused a shift in priorities and learning and development may have slipped down the agenda of importance for many businesses. Companies that previously put on informal training sessions in the office may have become unable to replicate these or wanted to avoid requiring employees to spend extra time on video calls to limit Zoom fatigue. In addition, many people were working away from their colleagues, giving them fewer chances to interact and learn from one another.

Although learning sessions directly related to employees’ jobs is beneficial, employers can also support their staff in achieving healthier work-life balances by creating opportunities to learn things that aren’t work-related.

April Bembridge, Partner and Chief People Officer at business advisory and accounting firm, Cooper Parry, says that Wrkit’s Learning module, which is part of the company’s employee benefits offering, is one of the best parts of the platform.

April said: “A “keep learning” mentality is central to our company values, and this is supported by the learning modules offered by Wrkit. If you want to learn anything, from cooking, to improving wellbeing, to coding, chances are you can search it on the platform and find a course, which is just fantastic.”

Allowing employees to develop personally as well as professionally is an indicator of a business that truly cares about its employees and acknowledges the importance of having a life and skillset outside of the workplace.

To give your employees the chance to learn and develop in all areas of their lives, supporting overall mental health and wellbeing, visit https://wrkit.com/products/learning or request a demo today.

Returning to five days in the office will undo progress in promoting work-life balance

Despite the push back of the lifting of all remaming Covid restrictions, employers world-wide are starting to consider their long-term stance on working from home. Predictions from think tank, Centre for Cities, are that the five-day office week will be the norm again within two years.

However this may have damaging implications that on employee wellbeing, especially as many have now reached a sufficent work-life balance. 

The prediction of a return to a five-day office working week might be premature, while we are seeing a large majority of workers come out in favour of the hybrid system of work. There are a lot of hurdles that those returning to work face, especially over the anxiety of a busy morning commute that will force them to rejuggle their schedules to account for the extra time.

Additionally, workers now have over a year of experience working from home, which has for many allowed them to adapt a healthy work-life balance, one that they are at risk of losing when returning to  five days a week in the workplace.

For many, the practical benefits of easier childcare, reduced commuting stress, better sleep and increased time at home will be something they are not prepared to forgo for the sake of their improved overall wellbeing. Furthermore, a number of teams and businesses have found they can produce work of the same, if not better, quality and quantity from home.

Now that businesses and staff have this insight into what real work-life balance can look like, we anticipate there being more reluctance than has been predicted to simply going back to how things were before the pandemic.

This is not to say that returning to the office doesn’t bring with it advantages, including being able to build working relationships between coworkers in person, but for some this does not outweigh the negaitvies. Employers should take into account the prefereances of each employee and not rush or force those to return to the workplace if they are as happy and productive working from home.

To find out more about how Wrkit can support your company with its employee wellbeing and wellness strategy, visit www.wrkit.com.

Ideas for workplace fun in the sun – hopefully!

Workplace culture is one of the top factors linked to employee happiness. That and the fact that any job is all about the people and engaged teams produce results.

It is also very important that colleagues get on and work together well to be productive, effective and fulfilled, and while friendship can’t be forced, social connections need to be encouraged and woven into a company’s culture to help employees get to know each other outside their roles, to build strong teams and increase employee engagement and communication.

With summer here and lockdown restrictions being eased, people might not have to endure too many Zoom office quizzes! We can now go outside – if the weather is clement and take a break in our daily routine, especially if that routine has been Microsoft Teams from the box bedroom in the back of your house.

Being social doesn’t have to revolve around booze either and there are many ways and means of organising social activities to ensure they are inclusive. Define the goals and then establish the budget, who the planning team is and whether some of the activities are compulsory or not. Choose a date that everyone can make and get it into the diary as early as possible. Chose an activity that everyone can participate in and then build the excitement.

A good way is for staff themselves to brainstorm and come up with some ideas and then survey the most popular. And the activities themselves are almost limitless, although budget dependent. But given it’s summer going outside is an easy first step. We all benefit from unplugging from technology, being able to breath and rejuvenate in nature.

Rambling with packed lunches or hill walking or orienteering with a pub drink as a reward are easy fun activities, as are high ropes adventures in beautiful trees. Scavenger or treasure hunts and ‘geoteching’ are great for team building too. 

It’s also Olympics year, so why not create your own company version and compete in various games of skill – it doesn’t have to be the shot put or the 110 metre hurdles, just let your creativity run wild and  remember to consider skill levels!

It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the UK that if we’ve already have had our quota of sunny days this year, but don’t let that stop you. There are scores of places to have fun and team build such as ball game venues offering table tennis, pool, crazy golf and beer pong, or escape room challenges (no irony meant), or go-karting. There is of course still fun to be had in the rain!

It doesn’t have to be all high-energy or competitive either. Many companies choose karaoke nights, chocolate making classes or cocktail masterclasses to have fun and build camaraderie. Or how about team lunches, a gentle picnic or a summer paella party?

To foster a good workplace culture, a supportive and open environment, office getaways or activity days shouldn’t be a tagged on after thought to company policy or even limited to the summer months. Many companies implement weekly or monthly activities like board game tournaments, office quizzes or just beers and pizza in the boardroom.

Bottom line though, after the year we’ve had, companies should make it a priority for employees to spend quality time together. It will help relationships blossom and bring the workplace together.

Introducing – The New & Improved POWR Dashboard

Staff wellbeing has, understandably, been an extremely important consideration for businesses as workplace stress levels continue to rise, which can create a variety of problems for businesses and individuals alike.

Particularly as many businesses are likely to make the permanent shift to hybrid, or even fully remote, working, it has arguably never been more crucial for companies to be able to monitor, measure and manage their staff wellbeing, in order to ensure morale stays high and employee recognition remains a priority even outside the traditional office environment. On this note, it is also critically important that staff are provided with the tools and support they need to take charge of their own wellbeing, particularly if working remotely.

It is for this reason that we have launched our brand-new and improved POWR dashboard, [TO1] which has been built from the ground up to help employees manage their wellbeing, as well as allow companies and HR departments achieve a far higher degree of insight into how their staff fare over time in the various areas of wellbeing – specifically work, sleep, activity, mind, food and life.

At its core, POWR is an online resource which replicates a professional health consultancy experience, which can provide employees with immediate guidance and support in a number of areas such as emotional wellbeing, psychological health and even personal development.

From data gathered via intuitive staff questionnaires, POWR is able to measure an employee’s health and wellbeing, and from there create a personalised health plan using the 400+ plans already on file, as well as provide support over time including instant access to external clinical support if needed. This support comes at a significantly lower cost-per-head, and higher engagement rate, compared with other Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP).

Of course, staff needs do not remain static, but rather change over time in line with the makeup of the workforce. Crucially, the dashboard also accommodates for this, allowing companies to monitor wellness data in real time and continually update their benefits provision accordingly.

Specifically, the POWR dashboard provides organisations with aggregated data at both an individual and team level, including comprehensive stats on both engagement and impact. Through this, business leaders and HR departments are able to identify real-time trends and specific issues, to help enhance wellness programmes to the benefit of employee and employer alike.

By making use of POWR, businesses can significantly reduce the cost of absenteeism – which cost UK businesses £14 billion in 2020 alone – and improve staff resilience, morale and overall performance. Furthermore, investing in tools such as this, which have the needs of employees front of mind, demonstrates a commitment to a healthy workplace, improving employer brand and increasing both employee attraction and retention rates. As employee expectations, and the world of work more widely, continues to evolve following the seismic events of the past year, it is crucial that businesses keep up with these changes if they are to attract and retain the top industry talent and, more importantly, keep their staff happy, productive and healthy in the months to come.