Six Ways Your Workplace Can Combat The Loneliness Epidemic
Loneliness is on the rise in America. In fact, it has reached epidemic proportions. According to a recent study by Cigna
, nearly half of Americans report feeling lonely frequently or always and only 53% report having daily meaningful in-person social interactions. Nearly one in four people say they rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them – compared to one in ten 30 years ago. The study went on to look at the health impacts of loneliness and found that frequent feelings of loneliness can increase the risk of early death by 50% and can have the same health outcomes as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Not surprisingly, lonely people are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and depression.
Loneliness may also be partially to blame for a rise in “deaths of despair” that the Brookings Institute identified in a recent study. They found that deaths by drug overdose, alcohol, and suicide have increased sharply over the past 15 years – especially for those in middle age. It is not hard to hypothesize that loneliness is a potential driver for of these disturbing trends. The problem has gotten so bad, that some organizations have begun to institute mandatory suicide prevention training to help combat the issue for their companies.
Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy explained in his Harvard Business Review cover story “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic" that the workplace has a significant role to play and it’s not hard to see why. Most Americans spend the majority of their waking hours at work, and from our mi- 20s until our mid-60s, co-workers are the people that make up our largest social interactions. However, it still requires leadership and strategy to help colleagues connect.
Organizations can help combat loneliness in the workplace through both the design of the workspace and by leaders promoting key behaviors with managers and employees. Below are six ideas for creating a work environment that combats loneliness:
- Create engaging social spaces where people want to gather and engage. Think exciting work café space – not just a microwave and mini-fridge in a storage closet as breakroom.
- More than a just a warehouse for employees, the workspace should invoke a feeling and make employees and visitors feel comfortable and at ease.
- Include enclosed private spaces for one-on-one conversations or as retreats for employees looking to concentrate, especially in open office environments.
- Bring people physically together – If you have a remote workforce or staff who regularly telework, then bring them together every once and while to connect, share, and socialize.
- Ask and listen – Give each of your team members a designated time to share something about themselves at the next staff meeting. Start with yourself and set up a schedule so everyone gets a chance. You might be surprised what you learn!
- Connect in new ways – Companies are using web-based apps like lunch roulette to get to know more people within their organization over lunch.
Like all epidemics, there are many factors which contribute to the rise of loneliness and there is no easy solution. However, there are many ways you can create an engaging work environment where people want to show up to create, explore, and share. To learn more about how your current workplace measures up, contact the Workplace Strategy and Human Experience team
Regional Workplace Manager