Loneliness, or a lack of social connection, has been suggested to have significant impacts on physical and mental health, with the 2023 Surgeon General’s Advisory – Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation – stating it has similar effects to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
This can also have a direct impact on businesses, as typically American employers spend an estimated US$154 billion annually in stress-related absenteeism.
Which workers are most likely to feel isolated at work?
Although feelings of loneliness can impact anyone in the workplace, certain demographics are more at risk than others.
For example, the study found that men are twice as likely as women to report feelings of extreme loneliness. Younger generations, too – typically those who identify as Millennial and Generation Z – are at high risk.
The report highlights that these workers may be more at risk of loneliness for several reasons, including stronger reliance on digital interactions, fewer established social circles, or the pressures of working at an economically and politically turbulent time.
Additionally, the report suggested that quality time was deemed more important than quantity of time with others, particularly because no difference was found between the loneliness of part-time and full-time workers.
However, the amount of time spent in a role can impact loneliness, with new employees most at risk of feeling isolated due to their lack of social network within the company.
Interestingly, the study also suggests that meetings do not reduce feelings of loneliness – in fact, they increase it.
“As organizations continue to navigate where and how their employees work, they’ve become dependent on overscheduling employee time and lessening organic interactions,” says Emily Killham, senior director of people analytics, research and insights at Perceptyx. “This is especially true for remote and hybrid employees, but even employees in the physical workplace are expressing the feeling of being ‘alone together’.”
Ultimately, the report found that meeting-heavy schedules contribute to this feeling for employees as genuine connections can’t be fostered. Employees were therefore deterred from feeling part of the organization, increasing feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
“Unfortunately, technology has led to overscheduling and forced connections,” Killham adds. “Leaders need to examine how they can take a purposeful approach to connection through technology. Meaningful interactions, particularly when it comes to working together to solve problems, and thought-out initiatives go a long way for organizations looking to lessen loneliness.”
HR leaders can reduce feelings of loneliness
To avoid loneliness, leaders can help foster genuine connections, as the report shows that if employees are connected to the organization, they feel part of something bigger and are twice as likely to experience no workplace loneliness.
Killham explains that one way to build this connection is by creating interactions where employees are working together toward a common goal. She says: “Cooperation and doing hard things together builds real connections. A strong sense of belonging coupled with an organization’s commitment to inclusion and career development for each employee also lessens these feelings of loneliness.
“This epidemic proves there’s an urgent need for strategic and personal actions to address this issue.
“Whether through leadership behavior, company get-togethers, purposeful management, or employee actions to build relationships, employers need to measure, act, and then measure again to ensure they offer a workplace experience that builds connections, not fences.”
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