Loneliness will be no stranger to many of us after two years of confinement, remote work and staring at computer screens. But loneliness and physical isolation are two different things. As the dust settled on a hybrid world, the loneliness did not disappear but mutated. With loneliness being the topic of this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, we spoke to five advertisers from The Drum Network about the shape of the problem and what we can do about it.
Jack Weight, Project Manager (and Mental Health Rescuer), Reception
We know the lockdowns have caused a spike in loneliness. But people are experiencing a different kind of loneliness now that we are returning to the workplace. The Beatles described it in Eleanor Rigby: “Wearing the face she keeps in a jar by the door.”
Many people feel like they have to be someone else when they walk into the office. They worry about being too much, too loud, too quiet. They feel obligated to wear a mask. These people only really feel themselves once at home, in their own space again. This leads to real loneliness at work.
We need to do three things. First, create cultures where people can be themselves without shame. Education is extremely important. Colleagues need to understand each other through things like personality and motivational mapping.
Then, train leaders and managers to communicate effectively and really listen so everyone feels heard, understood, and safe.
Finally, create open communication channels between everyone. It helps us know how each person works and how we react to certain situations, reducing friction and increasing cohesion.
Subashini Nadarajah, Global Executive Director of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, VMLY&R
Mental health is now integral to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Research indicates that investing in workplace mental health results in increased productivity and better employee retention, as well as a fourfold return on investment on average.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the lockdowns and great uncertainty they brought, at VMLY&R we focused on active engagement and support programs, giving our people a platform to express and discuss their experiences, concerns and everyday life. struggles all over the world. We recruited expert counsel to provide tools and mindset coaching to support mental health and other coping mechanisms during monthly regional webinars.
We also introduced Wellbeing, our mental health employee group. Well-being is our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health; allowing us to fully participate in our lives and experience meaningful connections. Our well-being is inextricably linked to how we present ourselves to our colleagues, partners and customers.
There is still a lot of work to be done in the area of mental health. Our people mean the world to us. I believe that we are on the right track to move forward collectively because we are listening and joining our hands and our hearts to support each other in this human crisis.
Neil Pawley, Principal Consultant, Foolproof
Many in our industry have suffered from loneliness over the past two years. Agencies are frantic at the best of times. Many colleagues enjoy this environment, with daily exposure to a creative buzz, which feeds their instincts and allows them to bounce off ideas from others. Removing this will have hit a lot of people hard.
But it’s not like that for everyone. My autism means I don’t like a busy, hectic environment. I don’t want noise or distraction, and if I want advice or try ideas, it has to be at a time of my choosing in a dynamic that I can control. It may not be quite what they say, but the last two years have been ideal for me. I have been at my maximum productivity and creativity working from home in an environment tailored to me, choosing engagement with others rather than having it imposed on me.
I can’t imagine what it’s been like for many. That’s one of the things with autism – insufficient data for assessment and a lack of understanding of another person’s thoughts makes this sort of thing a blind spot for me.
Jess Hodgson, Group Operations Director, TIPi Group
Loneliness is the feeling of isolation. It would be remiss to think that, in the “new normal” with more one-on-one time, there aren’t residual feelings of loneliness and social anxiety left after the whiplash of the past two years.
As an industry, we need to be aware of digging a little deeper with our colleagues to understand how feelings about social interaction have changed. Many people, myself included, who advertised for extroverts, began to struggle to adjust to the pace our industry expects both in the office and socially.
I have to continually remind myself not to say “yes” to everything just because we haven’t had a chance to say yes for so long. Being comfortable enough to say “no” without feeling like you’re letting people down or missing out is essential. Being aware of this and accepting that each person is different, many of us having adapted to the pandemic, will avoid creating a feeling of social isolation from our friends and colleagues.
Lauren du Mont, Customer Service Manager, Paradise
When I think of loneliness, I don’t think of the physical act of being alone, but rather the mental state of feeling lonely while surrounded by people.
The first step is to be able to identify loneliness and understand why you feel it. There are many reasons why you might feel lonely at work, from financial worries to the pressure of goals and deadlines or office culture.
At Paradise, we tackle this problem by forming a cultural club made up of people from all departments. Her main goal is to provide an environment that allows our employees to feel included and empowered while in the studio.
Emily-Faye Duncan, People and Culture Manager, Rufus Leonard
We all feel lonely sometimes, but when a brief feeling lingers, it affects our mental health. Often people struggling with loneliness are convinced that no one else feels the same way, which erodes their confidence and makes it incredibly difficult to change the way they feel.
During the pandemic, the focus has been on loneliness in the elderly, but loneliness can occur in your twenties, in a relationship, or in a busy household. We are human beings and social creatures; we all need to feel connected, loved and wanted.
Mental health should not be a taboo. While we’ve done a great job of breaking the stigma, there’s still a long way to go. We must continue to have difficult conversations to learn from each other.
Leaders have a responsibility to their teams and our community to lead by example and have conversations about mental health. Letting people know you’re there to listen goes a long way. It doesn’t take a leadership course to be able to listen to someone or show empathy and compassion.
Amplifying mental health issues by starting or joining conversations gives strength to fight stigma.