25 January 2023

Employers should exercise caution when encouraging employees to return to the office, finds British Red Cross

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Employers should exercise caution when encouraging employees to return to the office, finds British Red Cross 

Home workers are no more likely to experience loneliness than those working onsite, according to a new report by the British Red Cross and Campaign to End Loneliness. 

New research commissioned by the charity also reveals that more than half of the UK workforce feel lonely at work sometimes, while one in seven feel lonely most or all of the time. But the results also suggest that working from home is not an influencing factor. 

The Covid-19 pandemic brought significant changes to the way we work, but the British Red Cross findings suggest that bosses should carefully consider the impact that loneliness can have when encouraging employees to return to the office. 

Other key findings include: 

  • More than double the number of disabled people (24%) and those with long-term health conditions that affect their day-to-day lives are likely to experience general loneliness than those not affected by disability or ill-health (9%). Disabled workers and those with long-term health conditions are more than twice as likely to lack companionship and to feel left out and isolated from others at work. 
  • Managers need more support tackling loneliness, with senior managers twice as likely than average to report higher levels of general loneliness (32%), and more likely to feel that their colleagues are like strangers.   
  • Home and hybrid working has improved relationships both in and outside of work for many. Three quarters of people who moved to a home working model said the change had affected their work relationships, with two fifths (43%) saying that they had become closer to colleagues (compared with 26% who felt more distant). And most people (69%) whose location had changed said it had affected their relationships with friends or family, with half (50%) saying they had become closer and a third (33%) not noticing a difference. 

Loneliness at work is a huge problem for the British economy, contributing to sickness absence, reduced productivity and staff turnover with an estimated cost to UK employers of £2.5bn per year. 

Research has also linked loneliness to having a weakened immune system and to increased risk of heart disease and dementia. One study has shown that regularly feeling lonely can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.  

The British Red Cross report is based on responses from workers in a wide range of industries and sectors including schools, offices, hospitals and shops. It also explores differences between workers on different types of employment contracts, and between different demographic groups. 

The report which launches today will be reviewed by an All-Party Parliamentary Group brought together to tackle loneliness and connect communities, co-chaired by Conservative MP Tracey Crouch and Labour’s Kim Leadbeater.  

Olivia Field, Head of Policy at British Red Cross, said: 

“Loneliness is not new – it has been silently devastating our communities for decades. But we now know it’s impacting our health, wellbeing and productivity at home and at work. 

“This report comes at a crucial time when many businesses are both navigating a new working landscape and challenging financial environment. Some employers are keen to get their staff back into the office, while others are moving closer to a working from home model. 

“We know that working from home can have huge benefits for people’s wellbeing, but at the same time, people in shared workplaces feel more closely connected with their colleagues.  

“Our research suggests that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution but if we address loneliness in the workplace, it could improve staff productivity and retention. Now more than ever, it’s vital that the government supports employers to find a work pattern that allows their employees to balance their home and working lives.”  


Notes to editors 

The British Red Cross’s report Loneliness at work can be found here. The report is an evidence review of relevant literature and insights from polling conducted by Opinium.  

Opinium were commissioned to conduct a representative online survey of over 2,000 UK working adults. Survey was in field between 29 August to 5 September 2022. A booster sample of workers from minoritised ethnic groups was included.  

Key recommendations from the report: 

  • Help employers better understand how loneliness affects their workers and take meaningful action. 
  • Address loneliness among managers and support them to build connections with and among their teams. 
  • Support minoritised communities to feel a greater sense of belonging at work.
  • Ensure home, onsite, and hybrid workers are supported to develop and maintain work relationships.
  • Regularly feeling lonely can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. 


Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review - Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, David Stephenson, 2015 (sagepub.com) 

About the British Red Cross 

For over 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. With millions of volunteers across 192 countries, the British Red Cross is part of an international humanitarian Movement that’s there for people before, during and after a crisis. Together, we are the world’s rel="noopener noreferrer" emergency responders. www.redcross.org.uk