Words: Kate Tovey
I am not ashamed to admit that on more than one occasion in my adult life, I’ve felt lonely. Despite the stark reality that there are 9 million lonely people in the UK, there is a huge amount of stigma associated with loneliness in our culture. Unfortunately, all too often, issues around loneliness go unspoken, yet the impact loneliness is having on our society is astonishing. The Red Cross equates the physical effects of loneliness as being the same as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It’s an incredibly complex issue since there can be so many triggers; illness, bereavement, parenthood, moving to a new city or starting a new job*.
The charity MIND makes a connection between depression & loneliness. Worryingly, according to a Business in the Community study in 2018, 61% of employees have experienced mental health issues as result of work yet only 54% felt comfortable talking in the workplace about mental health. Loneliness is also incredibly misunderstood. Recent polls from YouGov suggest that contrary to popular belief it is not the elderly who are most affected, it’s in fact our younger population, specifically those aged 16-24, who report feeling loneliest, most often**. Loneliness can affect everyone.
As part of our research into loneliness we spoke to Mims Davies, who at the time was the Government Minister for Sport and Civil Society, with responsibility for addressing what the Government views as a ‘loneliness epidemic’. Her view was very clear: “Loneliness can affect us all, whatever our age, wherever we live, or whatever we do for a living. Sometimes, for some people, our busiest and most crowded cities can feel like the loneliest of places.”
As a result, it follows that there are people in our workplaces who are also feeling lonely. Given the significant amount of time we spend at work, I was surprised to see that a 2014 study found 42% of people didn’t have any colleagues they would see as a close friend***. It’s clear that all employers can play a crucial role in supporting the social well being of their teams.
At JCDecaux, we have committed to focus on addressing the causes and consequences of loneliness in the workplace, starting with our own business and then working with partners to, hopefully, achieve even greater impact.
I believe that we’ve lost the art of talking to strangers and that this is having a detrimental impact within our communities. It has certainly got me thinking about how I can take steps to make a difference in my own life by creating more meaningful everyday connections. I truly believe that to de-stigmatise loneliness it’s as simple as sparking up conversation; that could be a quick call to your Mum, a “good morning” to your neighbour, or a bit of a natter with a colleague over a cup of tea. For us working in OOH, highly visible in the public space, I think Mims Davies sums up very well the powerful potential we have to make a positive difference: “Why not use your influence and encourage our communities to come together in that space, and together help build a less lonely Britain.” There are some amazing charities doing wonderful work and I’d encourage everyone to think about their role in making the UK a less lonely place to live.