How to Combat Increased Loneliness In the Workplace

There’s a growing epidemic in the American workplace: loneliness. According to Cigna’s recent 2020 U.S. report on loneliness and the workplace—which surveyed over 10,000 adults from all across the country—a whopping 61% reported that they were lonely. This is 7% higher than last year’s report. And the stats are even higher for employed Millenials and employed Gen Zers at 69% and 80% respectively. While, on the surface, this issue might seem personal or better dealt with outside of the office, when you understand what loneliness can lead to in the workplace, it’s easy to see that this is a problem for all employers and employees to address in the workplace too.

According to Cigna, lonely workers say they are, “less engaged, less productive, and report lower retention rates.” This is particularly alarming for employers looking to keep their top technical talent around. Additionally, Cigna found that lonely workers are twice as likely to miss a day of work due to illness and five times more likely to miss work due to stress. Lonely workers also say they think about quitting their job more than twice as often as non-lonely workers. Finally, 12% of lonely workers say they believe their work is lower quality than it should be.

Lonely employees are delivering sub-par work, less productive, calling out sick more often, and quitting on a regular basis—this isn’t just one growing problem, it’s a multitude of problems wrapped into one package.  Whether you’re am employer/play a leadership role at your current company or you’re an employee looking to avoid loneliness in the workplace, we have a few strategies below that can combat the spread of loneliness.

For Employers & Company Leadership

1. Focus on Work Quality, Not Time Quantity: According to Cigna, the amount you work matters a great deal when it comes to loneliness in the workplace. Even people who worked less than they wanted reported higher levels of loneliness because nobody enjoys sitting at a desk and wasting the day away with nothing to do. Similarly, overworked employees reported increased loneliness as well. You can lighten the workload of overworked employees by amping up the work-life balance benefits your company offers and making work-life balance a priority in your company culture. And, for those who are working less than they wanted, you might want to offer them the flexibility to leave when their work is done, work on side projects in the office when things are slow, or offer cross-functional training so they can work with a whole new set of coworkers and fill their workdays in more interesting ways.

2. Make Time for Fun and Camaraderie At Work: A company culture that encourages isolation, silence, and non-stop productivity can directly contribute to increased loneliness in the workplace. If you want to make sure your employees aren’t lonely, prioritize fun and camaraderie in your company culture! This can be something as simple as hosting a happy hour every Friday evening for employees to attend or something as elaborate as a company trip to a fun destination. The more opportunities your employees have to form strong coworker bonds, the less likely they’ll be to experience loneliness in the workplace.

3. Encourage and Increase PTO: For some employees, workplace loneliness is just a spillover from their overall feeling of loneliness outside of the office. You can’t always anticipate who will feel this way or why, but you can offer generous PTO and encourage your employees to take it so no one feels like they have to sacrifice time with their loved ones in order to keep their job. Work-life balance is a core facet of any happy employee’s life and it’s hard to achieve when employees feel discouraged from using their PTO or don’t have enough PTO to use it on more than practical things like doctor’s appointments, children’s sick days, and mundane but necessary weekday chores like going to the DMV.

For Employees

1. Strengthen Coworker Relationships: From grabbing lunch with a coworker so you’re not eating alone at your desk to attending fun company sponsored events to finding time in your day for a little casual conversation, there are so many ways you can strengthen your relationships with your coworkers. Find commonality, find time in your day to catch up, and consider strong coworker relationships an accomplishment worth striving for in the workplace. Cigna’s data found that having colleagues to eat lunch with or even being able to identify a best friend at work contributed to feeling less lonely in the workplace.

2. Attend Meetups: If you’re struggling to find commonalities and camaraderie with your coworkers or you just want to expand your professional network outside of the office, consider attending a meetup! Whether you’re looking for one specific to a technology you like to use, an industry specific one, or one that’s focused on a hobby so your work-life balance doesn’t get too out of whack, these can be a great resource for building more of a personal community and combatting loneliness across the board.

3. Prioritize Time with Loved Ones When You’re Out of the Office: Another way you can combat overall loneliness, which will spill over into your performance at work if you’re not careful, is to prioritize time with friends and family when you’re out of the office. Using your PTO to spend time with others is incredibly valuable and can lead to a better overall work-life balance as well as reduced loneliness. But, even when you don’t have PTO to spare, make sure you’re using at least some of your time off during weekends and weekday evenings to spend time with loved ones if you want to avoid loneliness.

Loneliness in the workplace is sometimes hard to identify but it isn’t that hard to cure. Whether you’re an employer looking to reduce loneliness at your company with a few culture shifts or an employee hoping to avoid or reduce your workplace loneliness, these tips can serve as a jumping off point. And, if enough of us progress in a positive direction this year, Cigna’s 2021 U.S. report on loneliness and the workplace might have better news to share.