Increased Loneliness in the Workplace Is a Wake-​up Call for Managers

BY Kathy Crosett
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As a society, we are more connected than ever before. But people everywhere complain of loneliness in the workplace. At a moment’s notice, we can chat with friends and colleagues by using our smartphones and platforms enabled by Facebook. Apparently, this constant contact is not sufficient.

The Loneliness and the Workplace: 2020 report conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Cigna and Edelman connected with over 10,000 U.S. adults regarding their feelings on the subject of loneliness. The number of people experiencing loneliness in general has increased since last year. On a scale with an upper end of 80, 45.7 is the current loneliness score in this country.

U.S. adults have been feeling lonely for a while. Robert Putnam called attention to this issue in 2000, when he wrote Bowling Alone. The book was widely read and discussed, long before social media gave us even more reason to avoid face-​to-​face contact with friends, family members and work colleagues.

Loneliness in the Workplace by Age and Gender

The research reveals that men and women want more quality interaction in the daily lives. They also want to know that they have someone to count on in their time of need.  In the workplace, managers should pay attention to the impact of team members who feel isolated and lonely.

About 32% men don’t feel connected to their co-​workers. And 25% of women say the same. While men are more likely to have a good buddy at work (60%) and may even grab a beer with them after hours (51%), about 43% feel pressure to hide who they really are. They don’t want their colleagues to know their true position on politics or other hot-​button issues. Why? Perhaps it’s because they worry about being accepted and believe they need to conform to the culture at the company.

Researchers also noted a significant difference in loneliness based on age of respondent. Members of Gen Z have the highest loneliness score at work: 49.9. The rate steadily declines by major age groups. Baby boomers have the lowest score: 43.2.

Who’s Got Your Back

Not surprisingly, employees with the least amount of time on the job also have high loneliness scores: 49.5. Employees who have been on the job between five and 10 years come in at 45.3. This trend suggests that Gen Z employees, who are new to the workforce in general, could benefit from extra managerial attention until they understand how to navigate the landscape.

Team members really want someone to count on when they’re under pressure. It may be as simple as having someone to use as a sounding board, or they might hope that a co-​worker can help them out when they need to meet a deadline. At least 32% of men say they have nobody to count on. Women are in a slightly better position with about 23% lacking a good support system at work.

In addition, remote workers are slightly more likely than other employees to feel isolated from their team members. They also report lacking companionship at higher levels than their in-​office colleagues.

Manager Actions

If you’re managing employees who are new to the workforce or who maintain remotes offices, the findings in this report should serve as a wake-​up call. Loneliness in the workplace is negatively impacting productivity. Team members who feel supported and connected at work will deliver better results and have more loyalty to you and the organization. Reach out to your team members regularly to see how they’re doing. Use video conferencing to stay in touch with your remote workers. And consider assigning mentors to new employees to help them develop strong work relationships.