It’s not all that long ago that bumping into someone you knew in the street provided an opportunity for connection, involving the likes of a handshake or a hug. With the advent of the coronavirus, any sort of interpersonal contact has become dangerous. Furthermore, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, millions of employees globally started working from home. As a result of this lack of human interaction, many have come to feel isolated.
The loneliness caused by isolation has affected people in every sector of the workforce and can impact performance and workplace wellness. The experience of chronic loneliness can harm our health and wellbeing. After weeks of living in isolation, you may have found you couldn’t think as clearly as usual, that you were lethargic, less productive, your mental health deteriorated, or that your attention span dwindled.
This is not surprising, as research shows that isolation is inherently stressful. Looking at research on people and animals that have been isolated demonstrates how our brains are responding to COVID-19. When we are faced with danger, our brains release hormones that trigger the “fight or flight” response, preparing us to escape the danger or band together with others in order to have a greater chance of survival. Our bodies react the same way to modern-day stresses, such as dealing with COVID-19, which can cause us to be in a state of chronic stress.
Being in a state of constant stress actually changes our brains to deal with the constant release of stress hormones, so if some employees have been struggling to focus as well as usual, this could be the cause. You can read about this in more detail here
As a result, employee wellbeing and engagement are receiving unprecedented focus. Many business leaders are concerned about employee wellbeing, but don’t have a formal plan in place. As business leaders, we have a responsibility to mitigate the impact of workplace isolation and in these difficult times, new approaches may be needed to ensure workplace wellness.