As we head into the winter months, the group of employees I am most concerned about is those who are living alone. Although it may have been easier during the warmer months for people to limit feelings of isolation by meeting with friends or family at a park, on a patio or out for a walk, many of us will be spending more time indoors in the coming months. If we don’t take preventative measures now, it could create a heightened sense of loneliness and be detrimental to employees’ mental health.
We know from the Mental Health Index that isolation has been a concern for many people throughout the pandemic and Canadians have consistently identified it as having a negative impact on their mental health. For those who are living alone, it is particularly important to establish good habits.
- Set boundaries – If you are working from home, it can become too easy to get consumed with work and forget to take breaks or finish the work day at a consistent time. Those who are living alone may continue working through dinner, for example, because they don’t have family members or roommates waiting on them to start cooking together. Make sure to stick to a set schedule, plan to exercise or go for a walk in the morning, step away from your desk to eat lunch and shut down your computer at the end of the day. There will always be work to do so try not to burn yourself out or create expectations for your colleagues and clients by working around the clock.
- Schedule social events – Plan a biweekly catch-up with a colleague, a monthly virtual game night with your family members or a physically distanced coffee with a friend. If you have something social to look forward to each week, this can decrease the feelings of isolation.
- Get physical – Set aside at least 30 minutes a day to do something physical. Maybe it’s a brisk walk around your neighbourhood, following along with a yoga instructional video or dancing around your apartment. Anything that can be done to maintain your physical well-being will have a positive impact on your mental well-being.
- Seek support – If you are noticing a change in your mental health, whether your sleep schedule has become more erratic, you are feeling more anxious, or your motivation has declined, there is support available. Your employer may offer an employee and family assistance program, which will provide counselling support, or you can seek other programs like internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy that can help you address the challenging aspects of the pandemic.
- Do something good – If you are feeling disconnected from other people, find some volunteer work in your community or perform random acts of kindness for strangers – physically distanced, of course. Providing your support to other people is not only good for those on the receiving end but can also make you feel more connected.
For anyone who knows someone who is living alone, make sure to reach out, check on how they are doing and offer to meet up with them either physically distanced or virtually. If you notice any drastic changes in their behaviour, express your concern for them and recommend professional support if they seem receptive.
In the workplace, it is important for managers to check on their team members regularly, regardless of their living situation, and make time for non-work-related conversations. Employees who are on their own may go an entire day without any in-person interaction or spend the day focused completely on work. This can be problematic because not only could it take a toll on their mental health, but it could also contribute to a decline in their motivation and work productivity.
Although those who are living alone may try to focus heavily on supporting the social aspect of their lives, it is essential to protect all four pillars of your well-being – mental, physical, social and financial – throughout the remainder of this pandemic. The main idea, whether you are recommending it to someone you know, or you are considering your own mental health, is to ensure you have human connection every day.
Stephen Liptrap is the president and chief executive officer at Morneau Shepell. He is the Leadership Lab columnist for November, 2020.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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