Earlier this year, Wellable wrote about loneliness being the next employee wellness frontier, with, at the time, a survey suggesting more than 70% of Americans feeling a sense of loneliness and nearly a third (31%) experiencing loneliness at least once a week. Since then, more data has come in, generating greater alarm for human resource managers across the country. A recent Cigna study found that only slightly more than 50% of American adults had meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis and 50% sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and feel isolated from others. Twenty percent of Americans never or rarely feel close to people, and 18% felt like they have no one to talk to.
Loneliness also impacts all generations, so employers with certain demographics are not immune to the problem. A survey by AARP showed that more than 42 million U.S. adults over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness, while the Cigna study revealed that young people (aged 18 to 22) are far more likely than senior citizens to report being lonely and in poor health, making them the loneliest generation.
According to the Encyclopedia of Human Relationships, “the most broadly accepted definition of loneliness is the distress that results from discrepancies between ideal and perceived social relationships.” The most important word in the definition is “perceived.” Unlike physically being alone, loneliness is a feeling and a perception, which means individuals can feel lonely in a wide array of social settings and circumstances. Although being alone is not the only cause of loneliness, it can be a significant contributor, which is why scientists and employers are taking it seriously. Some would argue that it is a potential epidemic as more and more companies offering flex or remote work.
According to the 2018 State of Remote Work, loneliness is tied with communication as the biggest struggle to working remotely. This does not mean that employers need to stop supporting flexible schedules or remote work. Rather, it means employers should be aware of the problem and start implementing policies and procedures to address them before they have unwell employees, lower retention, or any other number of issues that may result from loneliness.
Fortunately, a Harvard Business Review article discusses a few options employers can consider to address loneliness. One option would be to establish an “in-the-office” day, when remote employees are encouraged to come in. A Gallup poll found remote workers in the U.S. that come in to work at least once per week are the happiest. These “mostly” remote workers report a slightly higher rate of engagement, but more importantly, they were more likely than full-remote or full-office workers to say they had a best friend at work, and that their job included opportunities to learn and grow. By having employees come in to the office for at least part of the week, employers can help them balance the benefits and costs of remote work. For remote employees that work in locations far from one of their company’s offices, employers can invest in bringing them to the office monthly or quarterly.
Employers can also look to their wellness program to help address the issue. Employee wellness programs can educate employees on ways to address loneliness, which can include solutions outside of the workplace. The wellness program can also include team-based activities to help employees feel more connected to their co-workers