Impact of Loneliness
In recent decades, loneliness has been recognized as a public health concern as big as obesity and smoking. Some of the latest studies suggest loneliness is related to an increase in stress, which may lead to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels result in a higher risk of inflammation in the body which may lead to heart disease, anxiety and depression. Ongoing high levels of stress can affect the brain, especially the pre-frontal cortex.
This shows up as having difficulties in decision making, planning, emotional well being and abstract thinking, which affects work performance and creativity.
In a 2016 General Social Survey, there was a significant correlation between those people feeling lonely and those who experienced exhaustion and/or burnout at their workplace.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is defined as a feeling that one is emotionally disconnected from others. It’s used to describe an emotional state experienced when there is a difference between relationships one wishes to have and those one does have. Loneliness can and does exist while in the presence of others.
Why does loneliness exist?
- Our society is geographically mobile and thus less likely to live near close friends and/or family.
- Telecommuting is more popular in the workplace with increased flexibility for workers.
- Outside sourcing and other contractual agreements have become a way for employers to cut overhead expenses and create even more flexibility.
Getting to know co-workers outside of work can be difficult. Regardless of the type of work you do, look around you. How many of your co-workers are isolated in their cubicle or office, on the phone, neck deep in e-mails or spending a majority of their day in meetings? With the average employee spending more than eight hours a day at work, the opportunity to connect is becoming more of a challenge.
What can be done to address workplace loneliness?
Social connectedness leads to higher self-esteem, which helps employees be more trusting, empathetic and cooperative. Research shows social support is a necessity in the workplace. Social support lowers the rate of burnout and creates a better work satisfactory environment, which increases productivity.
Yes, coffee breaks, happy hours and team building exercises may help build connections, but do they help in building deeper connections that allow people to use their innate ability to empathize with others? Employers should consider these simple suggestions to help their employees feel better about themselves, others and about their work environment.
- Encourage employees throughout the organization to build developmental networks. Create networks of small groups employees can turn to for advice and/or emotional support.
- Remove barriers to connect! Free up space on calendars for employees to connect.
- Celebrate collective successes, which help create a sense of belonging, builds community amongst employees and helps form attachment to the organization.
- Promote a culture of inclusion and empathy by encouraging a community of caring, supportive, respectful, honest and forgiving relationships between people. Empathy and compassion are said to foster greater workplace resilience.
It’s important to make every effort to ensure everyone feels included. This will only boost positivityand initiate the process of bonding as a team. Workplace loneliness is a serious problem not always noticeable and can be difficult to address. Because of its potential negative impact on the workplace, everyone has a moral obligation to help those in need by letting them know they are welcome at the place where they spend one-third or more of their day.
Robin Williams said it the best, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” - Robin Williams (2009)
We Can Help
Are you struggling with feeling lonely in your job or personal life? Whether you are the employee or the employer we are available to help anytime, day or night. As part of your VITAL WorkLife EAP you have access to trained professions, anytime, to provide the support you or your family members need.
If you are a member of one of our solutions, give us a call to speak with a representative; we’re available anytime, day or night.
- EAP members: call 800.383.1908
- Physician and Provider Well Being Resources members: call 877.731.3949
Not a Member?
For more information about our comprehensive suite of well being solutions, contact us online or call 800.383.1908.
- Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John Cacioppo
- Joy by Osho
- Two Awesome Hours by Josh Davis
- Loneliness in the Workplace by Sarah Wright
- Seppala and King. Burnout at Work Isn’t Just About Exhaustion. It’s Also About Loneliness. June 2017.
- John Cacioppo and Stephanie Cacioppo. New Scientist: Loneliness is a modern epidemic in need of treatment. 30 December 2014.
- Vivek Murthy-Harvard Business Review, September, 2017. Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.
- IFL Science, 2017. The Deadly Truth About Loneliness.
- Washington Post, 2017. This former surgeon general says there’s a ‘loneliness epidemic’ and work is partly to blame.
- Honor Whiteman. Loneliness: a bigger killer than obesity. Medical News Today, 2017.