Workplace Loneliness Being Tagged as Lethal Pandemic for Workers by Health Officials

26 Feb, 2024 Chriss Swaney

                               

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) -- The U.S. Surgeon General reports that widespread loneliness in the workplace and across America poses health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes daily.

And loneliness costs the U.S economy  an estimated $406 billion a year, in addition to the estimated $6.7 billion a year in Medicare costs for socially isolated older adults, according to the U.S. Labor Department

The Beatles sang about “all the lonely people’’ way back in 1966, and the United Kingdom even created a Minister of Loneliness cabinet post in 2018. Here in the United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has recently made loneliness and social connectedness his platform issue.

“Employees experiencing workplace loneliness are likely to experience negative consequences, both at work and in their personal lives,’’ said Emily Killham, senior director of people analytics, research and insights at Perceptyx. “When employees don’t feel support at work or that they are part of a greater mission, or when they don’t know where they fit in, this is when loneliness flourishes.’’

In contrast, Killham reports that those who feel connected are twice as likely to experience no workplace loneliness. The good news for companies and organizations, she points out, is that what builds connections isn’t a lot of new programs.

 “It’s a lot of what has worked for many years: great people management, meeting people with respect, building a healthy culture where workplace stress can be tackled and setting workers up with a shared future in the organization,’’ according to Killham.

Killham said that the data culled from surveying 1,500 workers nationwide shows that returning to the office won’t solve the problem. While remote workers report the highest level of loneliness, only 35 percent of the “very lonely’’ think more time in the office will improve their situation. Additionally, it is hybrid workers – who work in the office part of the week and the rest at home – rather than in-person- are the least isolated of all.

Lori Moran of Ballymoney Real Estate Services Inc. in Pittsburgh, Pa, said employers need to strive to improve connections with remote workers. “The link between remote workers and loneliness is complex, but it is not impossible to solve,’’ she added. 

“When employees were sent home at the start of the pandemic, organizations developed a bad habit of equating proximity with connection,’’ said Killham. “Without physical  proximity, they substituted meetings. Overscheduling and forced connections lead management to reexamine how to create connections through technology. Loneliness is a connection issues,’’ Killham said.

Killham noted that it’s important for companies and organizations to create a psychologically safe environment where employees can make mistakes and fix them together, share values, and have purposeful interactions instead  of bringing people together to share information and then sending them out alone.’’

Rather than focusing on time in the office or number of meetings, Perceptyx recommends employers focus on the quality of interaction. Employees who feel appreciated at work are more motivated by their company’s values and more than twice as likely to report no loneliness, and those with a good connection to their manager are nearly twice as likely.

“So, there is something to be said for the daily morning chats around the old office water cooler,’’ said Moran.  “You can pick up so much information and work ideas by interacting and just listening, ‘’ said Moran.

“Employers are also noticing problems with ongoing connectiveness of their workforce, and their first instinct is to bring everybody back into the office,’’ said Killham.  “And they aren’t all wrong.’’

“Those workers who work fully remote report the greatest feeling of loneliness. Surprisingly though, those working on site each day are not the least lonely. Many organizations have pushed for a return to the office, only to have those employees close their office doors, avoid shared spaces and meals together, or use headphones to help them focus.’’

These acts of being “alone but together,’’ according to Killham, don’t build real connections any more than back-to-back digital meetings.  She warns that as companies move into 2024, it’s pivotal for them to foster a culture that provides real opportunities for real collaboration and shared sense of purpose for workers.

 Social isolation and loneliness were associated with a 32 percent and 14 percent higher risk, respectively , of all – cause mortality, as well as an increased risk of cancer mortality, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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