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14 Dec 2021
by David Watts

How can reward professionals help to combat workplace loneliness?

The separation we’ve all experience since the start of the pandemic has taken a large toll on even the most resilient individuals. The shift to and from remote working has been especially challenging, and the loneliness felt by many will be compounded by the arrival of Christmas. So how can reward professionals help employees to feel less lonely, especially at this time of year?


The impact of loneliness

Loneliness is not just a personal struggle, it’s a workplace issue. Social fragmentation happens in the absence of strong connections and this in turn impacts an organisation’s culture, leading to individuals or teams feeling isolated, unsupported, and even excluded.

O.C. Tanner’s 2022 Global Culture Report  finds that 45% of employees admit that the number of individuals they regularly interact with at work has decreased significantly over the past year, and more than half (57%) say they engage in fewer social activities. In addition, 1 in 3 employees feel disconnected from their leader, furthering isolation and loneliness.

When employees report weak connections at work, the likelihood of them producing great work reduces by 63%, they are less likely to cope in stressful situations and their chances of experiencing burnout increases by a phenomenal 64%.

How to combat loneliness

There’s no easy solution to making an individual feel less lonely but focusing on nurturing connections will help. Modern leaders are key here as they help to bring people together and make them feel valued and appreciated. For reward professionals, it’s important to support a strategy of connection with:

  1. Recognising individuals’ efforts and accomplishments. This will make them feel valued and strengthen ties between the leader and the individual. Whether it’s recognition for extra effort, an achievement, a career milestone or just a simple thank you, showing appreciation builds a connection between employees and leaders at all levels. And when recognition is a part of everyday culture, the odds of having an above-average connection with those leaders increases by 25 times. In addition, recognition builds connection between individuals and their teams. A peer-to-peer recognition programme in which employees can call out a colleague’s contribution, is invaluable for building relationships and creating memorable, peak experiences that deepen ties.
  2. Provide meaningful rewards. Provide rewards that mean something rather than just a gift voucher, for example. This could be a personalised plaque with a handwritten thank you from the MD, together with notes of congratulations from team members. And ensure that it’s clear why the individual is being rewarded and how their contribution fits into the bigger picture. By linking rewards to purpose, this strengthens the employee’s connection with the organisation and its leaders.
  3. Find opportunities for deepening connections. Think creatively about how to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. How can you bring teams together even if they aren’t physically in the same room? Arranging afternoon tea deliveries to team members who have finished a project successfully and inviting them to enjoy it together over Zoom is an interesting idea. And with Christmas approaching, perhaps arrange a virtual carol concert, Christmas quiz or bake-off to encourage a greater sense of togetherness.

 Let’s bring people together

It can’t be assumed that employees will be proactive about socialising with colleagues, especially when working remotely. It’s important to nurture and encourage workplace connections, and this can be supported with an effective recognition programme, meaningful rewards and planning social occasions. Rewards and benefits professionals have a valuable role to play in combating workplace loneliness, especially in the run-up to yet another Covid Christmas.

David Watts is the Culture and Engagement Strategist at O.C. Tanner Europe

This article was provided by O.C Tanner Europe

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