Have a chat to help others through loneliness

Looking back over the past 18 months, the Joni Mitchell lyric ‘you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ comes to mind. It’s only now, having been isolated, that we can appreciate how much small moments of contact with family and friends can mean. Bristol Myers Squibb’s Janice Creasy discusses how the company is helping reduce feelings of loneliness amongst its teams. 

In a recent staff survey, two-thirds (66%) of our employees said that face-to-face contact was the most important thing that helped to reduce feelings of loneliness during lockdown, with almost half (46% saying) even those small moments of connection with a stranger, such as a nod or a wave, made a difference. With so many of us working remotely, we’re also missing the day-to-day social interaction of the workplace, from coffee break chats to office small talk.

Part of my role is managing and supporting teams who in ‘normal times’ always worked remotely from the office. These teams are involved in day-to-day customer relations, so it has been critical to keep them motivated throughout changing lockdown situations. For long periods they couldn’t be on the road and had to vastly change their daily routine to work from home, often only able to meet virtually or while having to juggle caring responsibilities.

This was a difficult transition and feelings of loneliness and isolation started to take hold. With 900 employees across our UK and Ireland business, we needed to understand how we could better support our teams. We met regularly to discuss common themes, share best practice, reiterate how to spot feelings of loneliness, and signpost people to existing services.

At Bristol Myers Squibb, that got us thinking about how we could keep the spirit of connection alive for those suffering from loneliness and how we could keep in touch with people. So, in November 2020 we joined forces with the Campaign To End Loneliness, and launched the Have A Chat campaign, which, through an inspiring video choreographed by former Strictly Come dancing Judge, Arlene Phillips, raised awareness of the powerful impact that simply checking in and chatting with someone who might be feeling lonely can have.

“A recent survey has shown that two-thirds (68%) of our colleagues felt that talking to people – whether in person or online – had helped to reduce feelings of loneliness during lockdowns”

As lockdowns continued, we then adapted the Have A Chat campaign for our staff, holding a Have A Chat day earlier this year to encourage people to support each other by reaching out to colleagues to start conversations that were not work-related. Employees in the UK and Ireland got involved by having a protected half hour in their day to check in with their colleagues; taking virtual tea breaks, (we provided a ‘Have A Chat’ mug!) and getting to know people in other departments.

A recent survey has shown that two-thirds (68%) of our colleagues felt that talking to people – whether in person or online – had helped to reduce feelings of loneliness during lockdowns. As the pandemic continues, and loneliness remains a significant concern for many, Bristol Myers Squibb is committed to continuing to support where we can.

Pastorally, we’ve built in two wellbeing breaks each day, where staff are encouraged to get away from their computer screens and relax. And, in addition to providing mental health ambassadors to address any worries our staff may be having, we’re opening a wellness garden at our head office.

We’re continuing to learn lessons from the pandemic and to build on our activities to help. As the first lockdown began, we introduced ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’, a virtual weekly morning activity that took teams away from their day-to-day job, engaging them in activities such as competitions, yoga, and Pilates. We had more than 100 people participating each week and, as interest grew, the idea was adopted by our US colleagues and has now been implemented globally across the company.

So, as we start to phase back into social interactivity, I’ll be working with my colleagues to ensure that teams continue to build on the Have A Chat and Wellbeing Wednesday initiatives, making it a natural part of their working week. It’s so important to keep sight of the value of human connection so we can support those suffering from loneliness. If we’ve learned anything during lockdown, it’s that even small moments of connection can mean the world.

About the author

Janice Creasy is national director, Innovative Medicines at Bristol Myers Squibb where she manages a large customer-facing team. She has been working in cardiovascular health at Bristol Myers Squibb since 1997.

July 2021 NO-GB-2100238