We often think of loneliness as an issue that only affects older people; the stereotypical image is of an elderly person, alone in their house, waiting by the phone that never rings. However, a new in-depth study from the British Red Cross and the Co-operative has revealed that one-fifth of the UK population say they are often or always lonely – the equivalent of nine million people – and business has a role in helping to tackle it.
One of the report's main findings was that the key triggers for loneliness were life transitions. Retirement is a major one of these, and our 'Age in the Workplace: Retain, Retrain, Recruit' research reflects this; 36% of retired people who miss work say the 'social interaction' is the thing they miss the most. In fact, one in five people who are officially retired return to work within five years of retirement, suggesting that for many people work may fulfil a social need that they are unable to replicate once they leave.
But there are other life transitions which can lead to loneliness, such as becoming a new mum, long-term health issues or mobility limitations, bereavement and divorce or separation.
What can employers do to support and prepare their people for transitions?
Building resilience really matters – longer working lives will see more transition points.
Flexible working or 'keeping in touch' days may help employees who take time out of the workforce and want to return, or who are unable to return full-time. Other approaches could include using community volunteering to help employees maintain their social networks, space for individuals (and their families) to consider their options if they choose to leave work, and offering tailored advice and support relevant to individual employee's circumstances. Finally, life transitions may also involve financial changes, so ensuring employees receive the right support to plan their finances for retirement or other transitions can help them to make the best financial decisions for their future.
As we live and work longer, more support for people to be resilient to life transitions is increasingly vital. All of us, including employers, have a role to play in providing that support so that people thrive through periods of transition.