Britain has the world’s first ‘Loneliness Minister’, Tracey Crouch.
Teresa May appointed her on Mental Health Day this year, Oct 10.
A survey by the Jo Cox commission in 2017 had revealed that nine million people in the UK are affected by loneliness. And as the health professionals keep reminding us, physical health suffers too.
The stranger part of the picture is the loneliness experienced at work.
The combination of technology, working from home, and sheer workload leaving less time to hang out with colleagues is making real human connection at work harder and harder. Buildings filled with people who all work for the same company, together, are feeling lonely.
What is to be done?
There is always the literal approach.
In August, Costa Coffee launched ‘Chatty Café’. This involves setting up ‘Chatter and Natter’ tables, rolled out across 300 branches, where those who want to talk to others can sit and do just that.
(Offices too arrange designated talk spaces for employees)
Why does this feel weird?
The idea is well intentioned, benign and constructive. Yet oddly artificial, oddly forced. Contact and friendships, are really, really, hard to construct or force. In real life we see connections between people develop in an unplanned and non-linear way.
Isn’t this the key?
Something crucial has been designed out of our workplaces.
It is so simple and now, so rare.
That crucial element is undesigned space. Open, non-assigned areas and places where the possibility of unplanned, spontaneous conversation and contact can take place.
Less ‘chatter and natter’, more ‘what might happen here?’ is what we need.
Good luck, Tracey.