Impact of Loneliness on American Culture and Workplaces
Updated: Apr 8
Everyone feels lonely every now and then. It’s natural. But lately Americans have reported feeling lonelier than ever. Cigna’s groundbreaking 2018 U.S. Loneliness Index found that loneliness is an epidemic in the country, and the subsequent 2020 report confirmed that loneliness has increased since the original study and that it’s effecting the workplace. What does this mean for the 157 million working Americans and their employers? Lonely workers in our study were twice as likely to report missing a day of work due to illness, and five times as likely to miss a day of work due to stress. Lonely employees also report being less productive and producing lower quality work. Missed days and reduced productivity can significantly impact employers, but these findings also identified opportunities for employers to improve connectivity among their workforce and even improve their bottom line.
The wide-spread nature of loneliness makes it difficult for employers to decide where to focus their efforts to have the most impact. Cigna’s findings identified the loneliest workers and provide suggestions for increasing connectivity and vitality.
- Who are the loneliest workers? Men, younger generations and teleworkers report higher levels of loneliness.
- Quality interactions and relationships are more effective at combatting loneliness than quantity. Similar to how we engage with technology, how colleagues interact at work is more helpful than the number of interactions. Employees who felt they had a “best friend” at work are less likely to be lonely.
- It’s lonely at the top – and bottom. Senior executives and entry level employees tend to be the loneliest workers.
- How we use technology is more important than frequency. It’s important that technology isn’t viewed by employees as a replacement for in-person interactions. Instead, they want their technology to serve as a tool to help them develop the relationships they already have with their coworkers.
It may be overwhelming to think about how many people are lonely, but it’s not too hard to do something that can make a difference. Ask a colleague to go for a walk, grab coffee together and catch up. It may do more to improve both your health, and your work, than you think.
I look forward to discussing this important topic in depth during my keynote presentation on April 1st at the 7th Annual Emerging Trends in Wellness Conference. Join me to learn more about loneliness and what employers can do to improve connectivity within their workforce.
This post was authored by Stuart Lustig, M.D., M.P.H., National Medical Executive for Behavioral Health at Cigna.