How to spot the signs of disconnection and loneliness

Written by Pamela Jary CMgr Tuesday 15 December 2020
Many of our colleagues may not be able to spend the holiday season with loved ones. How can we help them feel more connected at work?

Loneliness and isolation, perhaps coupled with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and anxiety around Covid-19, are on the increase. At this time of year, many people are facing a Christmas holiday without family around them, or have already celebrated Diwali away from family and friends. Consequently, it’s the time of year that can magnify these feelings. It is unlikely, given a work context that someone will come out and state they feel lonely when they are already feeling vulnerable, but there are signs to look out for.

Look for signs of withdrawal and low mood

Is someone being more quiet and contributing less than usual? Video conferencing allows us to see someone’s non-verbal body language without being caught staring in person, so check in with each of your staff while you are online with them. Do they seem open and engaged or more withdrawn and sagging in spirit? If you notice something that concerns you, just check in with them after the meeting or set up a private one to one conversation. Ask them how they are doing, make the conversation meaningful and not superficial. Ask how they are coping with working from home – do they see people? What do they miss? Share what you miss too as this can help them open up to you. If they do confide in you, make it clear that anything they tell you is in confidence and you are there to support them.

Look for changes in work-related behaviour

Another signal that something may be wrong is an increase in sick days. While not an indicator of loneliness and isolation on its own, it is something to watch out for along with changes in behaviour. Are they less productive or making silly mistakes and not meeting deadlines, which is out of character? Are they less chatty, are they snappy or fidgety (due to issues with concentration)? Together this could be a sign that someone is struggling. Initiate a productive conversation that gives them the opportunity to ask for help and actively listen to what they say, reflecting back and asking questions if necessary. Ensure they feel validated and understood and above all agree an action plan and do it!

It cannot be emphasised enough: check in with staff and fellow managers

Check in with each other from time to time. Just saying hello can make you and them feel more connected. I was talking to my mentee the other week via Skype; we had a good session on development and what we had been doing outside work time (gardening) and I finished the call by telling them they could get in touch any time. They replied that I could also call them anytime too, if I wanted to have a chat about gardening. I appreciated this gesture so much. Work is not just all business but is a place of social interaction and it is this that people are missing. Virtual working can be a shared experience and can connect us until we can be together in the same building and room once more.


You can visit CMI’s mental health and wellbeing hub to find more articles exploring the impact Covid-19 has had on individual or team mental health.

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Pamela Jary CMgr MBA (Open), BSc (Hons) Psych, is a senior change manager in the Ministry of Defence. She has extensive experience of leading and managing staff as well as being a mentor and coach. She draws on her psychology training to augment her business experience and has been involved in many change programmes within the organisation, recently acting as a key member of the cross MoD initiative to improve as a learning organisation.

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