A Growing Epidemic: Loneliness in the Workplace

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy cites loneliness at work as a growing health epidemic. Loneliness can translate to a reduced lifespan equivalent to smoking more than a half pack of cigarettes a day, making it an even greater threat than obesity. Yet unlike smoking cessation and weight loss programs, far less attention is paid to improving social connections in the workplace. Furthermore, loneliness has a significant effect on work output, limiting performance and creativity, and impairing reasoning and decision making.

Even with open offices and technological advances, employees now can feel more isolated and alone than ever in the workplace.

This lack of connection can become a significant work performance risk, not to mention raising the possibility of expensive employee turnover and lack of productivity.

What Employers Can Do

Pay attention to onboarding new employees. While filling out W-4s and signing up for a benefits program are a necessary component of any new hire process, onboarding involves much more than filling out paperwork. Employee onboarding introduces new hires to the values, cultural aspects and people of the company.

Show appreciation. Showing team members that they are valued doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but praise and thank yous can have an enormously positive impact on your employees’ engagement.

Put remote workers front and center from time to time. Withdrawal is a common sign of a problem. If you’re hearing less and less from employees, even if they’re meeting deadlines, they may be unhappy. Contact them regularly to see what’s on their minds and always make sure to involve them in meetings and special events.

Get outside the office, encourage connection and engagement. Team outings such as attending sporting events, or going to amusement parks, bowling or laser tag are always a fun time. Even something as simple as a monthly team lunch or potluck goes a long way in helping to quell the loneliness employees sometimes feel.

Southwest EAP is your partner to provide counseling, resources and training for your managers and employees to productively work through these issues before they become detrimental to workplace performance.