The promise of an interconnected digital world, to keep in contact with old friends and distant relatives, is looking to be a bit of a pipedream in light of crippling data suggesting loneliness is still on the rise. It’s so bad, in fact, that Great Britain recently appointed a minister of loneliness.
More than 9 million people in Great Britain often or always feel lonely, according to a 2017 report published by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” said Prime Minister Theresa May, the person responsible for appointing the minister. And this reality started getting grim over 20 years ago.
Rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s, and today over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely. Research indicates, however, that this number may be even higher in the workplace, with many employees and half of CEOs reporting loneliness in their roles.
Former United States surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, suggests that “loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” In the workplace, he says, “loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.”
Lonelier workers quit more often, are less satisfied with their job, and perform well below their capabilities. The fields you’re likely to find lonely people are legal, engineering, and science. Government workers also tend to be a lonely bunch, reporting lower levels of social support on the job than for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
Business leaders should take note of loneliness in their workplace and make changes to combat it. “Management should not treat work loneliness as a private problem that needs to be individually resolved by employees who experience this emotion; but rather should consider it as an organizational problem that needs to be addressed both for the employees’ sake and that of the organization,” say California State University researchers.
A recent Harvard Business Review study suggests that “the single most impactful leadership behavior you can undertake to counteract loneliness is to create opportunities for building shared meaning with colleagues.” Taking time to understand employees goals, dreams, and aspirations will help create a supportive company culture that reduces workplace loneliness.