Running Your Business

Protecting Employees From the Loneliness Epidemic


  • Many American employees aren't engaged with their work—or coworkers—and are experiencing a deep sense of loneliness

  • The best way to prevent the loneliness epidemic from affecting your colleagues is to routinely promote strong relationships and social interactions

  • Consider pairing employees with different team members to work on a project that might spark some creativity

Posted by December 26, 2018

As hard as you’ve been working on creating initiatives that engage your fellow employees, you might find that some of your colleagues are still withdrawn and appear disinterested in their roles.

Of course, you’d like to help your team members get interested in work again—but more importantly, you’re worried about them and their health. You’ve heard about the loneliness epidemic sweeping through workplaces in America; could this be happening at your organization too? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is the Loneliness Epidemic, Exactly?

Plain and simple, many American employees aren’t engaged with their work (or coworkers) and are experiencing a deep sense of loneliness. In fact, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy considers loneliness a major issue for individuals’ health.

In an interview for The Washington Post, Murthy says, “I talk about this as an epidemic because it’s far more widespread than people believe, and like many illnesses that are related to our mental and psychological state, it gets swept under the rug and exists in the shadows.”

It’s high time to shine a spotlight on the loneliness epidemic—for the sake of the nation’s organizations and the well-being of all employees.

Identifying Employees Affected by the Loneliness Epidemic

While many employers might recognize loneliness as a potential issue that could permeate their organization, some still aren’t sure how to identify the employees that experience it. Sadly, there are no specific signs that will allow you to pinpoint which of your staff may be lonely and disengaged.

However, this issue has bothered the Harvard Business Review enough for the publication to team up with BetterUp to collect data on loneliness. In the study of over 1,600 full-time employed individuals, the groups were able to identify the individuals they believed to be suffering the most. The data found that, “America’s loneliest workers are single and childless. They are well-educated, with doctors and lawyers feeling loneliest of all. They are more likely to work for the government. Most personally, America’s loneliest workers are non-heterosexual and non-religious.”

Preventing Isolation in Your Office

This advice might sound simple, but the best way to prevent the loneliness epidemic from affecting your workplace is to promote strong relationships and social interactions as soon as an applicant is hired. If your current culture doesn’t call for a bonded team, consider making swift changes to address this. There’s no need to force friendships on your employees—but you want to promote an environment that is accepting, welcoming and supportive at all times.

An effective way to set an example is by making an effort to start conversations with all employees, regardless of how far away from you they fall on the organizational chart. It’s a good idea to lead conversations by mentioning small moments of praise, and encouraging the entire employee base to make efforts to invite someone new to lunch or introduce themselves to a colleague they don’t often speak to.

Providing Resources for Employees Who Are Already Suffering

If you are able to confidently identify some employees who you believe may be suffering from self-inflicted isolation or even team-separated loneliness, make a point to get to know them better! That being said, it’s important to engage all of your employees and offer resources to your entire workforce.

It’s more difficult to pull someone back into being engaged than it is to prevent disengagement in the first place. To this end, consider scheduling a meeting with your staff to ask what more you can do to provide a workplace where they thrive. Perhaps they’d opt for more training, or simply want to voice their ideas. Be receptive to what your coworkers have to say. Try teaming them up with a colleague to collaborate on a project that might spark some creativity, and recognize them for their contributions.

It can be tough to run an office where some staff members are experiencing loneliness. However, avoiding the issue or hoping it will go away on its own is the worst possible approach an employer could take. Be proactive by engaging and recognizing your team members and, when necessary, make every effort to assist any employees who are already suffering.

Looking for an online database of advice related to running your business? Check out the Employer Toolkit hosted on United Concordia Dental’s website.

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