Self-compassion can help employees overcome remote work loneliness

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Virtual work is the hot trend among employees all over the globe right now. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic fades, many workers are looking to continue working remotely full-time. However, the work-from-home lifestyle does have some drawbacks for one’s well-being. Researchers from Indiana University find remote work can lead to loneliness, which creates a higher risk of depression.

“We wanted to understand what factors are driving feelings of work loneliness, and to understand how this work loneliness influenced employees’ psychological health and work behaviors,” study author Stephanie Andel says in a university release. “We looked at three different factors that we thought might drive work loneliness: perceptions of job insecurity, telecommuting frequency and insufficient communication from their companies about how they were responding to the pandemic.”

The study included participants from various backgrounds, including retail, education, and technology. From mid-March to mid-May 2020, researchers conducted weekly surveys involving each of these employees.

Results reveal individuals engaging in remote work experienced more symptoms of depression. Participants were also less likely to go beyond their job’s basic responsibilities while working from home. For example, these employees were less willing to help a co-worker or take the lead on a project.

How can you shake the remote work blues?

To help people adapt better to the telecommuting lifestyle, study authors find a little self-compassion goes a long way. The team finds this is a key ingredient to overcoming, as best as possible, the effects of remote work loneliness. For those who added self-compassion behaviors to their daily routine, depression symptoms noticeably dropped.

“We found that self-compassion helps protect employees from some of the negative effects of work loneliness,” Andel reports. “We suspect this is because self-compassion leads individuals to be kinder to themselves, makes them more likely to recognize that they are not alone in their feelings and helps them to be aware of — but not consumed by — their negative feelings.”

Originally, researchers believed self-compassion would increase an individual’s engagement at work. Instead, they discovered that people were more likely to be kinder to themselves and take necessary breaks.

“It will be very interesting for future research to continue investigating the power of self-compassion in the workplace,” the IUPUI researcher adds. “For instance, it would be great to see if managers who promote self-compassion at work foster a better working experience for their employees. Ultimately, my collaborators and I hope to develop self-compassion interventions that can be utilized by companies to help their employees feel and perform better at work.”

For companies looking to prevent their remote workers from getting lonely, the team says employers can do three simple things:

  1. Consistent and clear communication
  2. Virtual social gatherings for employees
  3. Create a self-compassion friendly environment that promotes and encourages self-compassion

The findings appear in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.