February 25, 2020
It’s not just lonely at the top anymore. American workers are feeling more isolated than ever at all levels of the work chain. Anxiety about a lack of connection or communication with others seems at odds in our constantly connected society.
According to the second annual Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, based on a survey of 10,000 adults, three out of every five adults report that they sometimes or always feel lonely. That’s a 7% increase from a year ago, CNBC reports.
The numbers are even higher for younger adults. In Gen Z workers, ages 18-22, 73% reported feeling lonely sometimes or always, the study showed.
Is social media to blame?
An increasing correlation was discovered in the study between social media usage and feelings of loneliness. Among heavy social media users, 71% reported feelings of loneliness, up from 53% a year ago. That compares to 51% of light social media users feeling lonely, up from 47% a year ago, the article said.
The research suggests younger people may experience more loneliness because of their position within a company or organization. Nearly two-thirds of workers who’d been at a job less than six months reported isolation, compared to 40% who’ve been on the job for 10 years or more.
But high-ranking executives said there is no one they can talk to, with 69% of them admitting that no one really knows them well, the article said.
Some experts say the U.S. is experiencing a “loneliness epidemic." In a 2018 survey, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 22% of Americans reported feeling constantly alone, Good Housekeeping reports.
These sustained feelings of isolation can result in serious health problems, both mental and physical. People often associate loneliness with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, but loneliness also leads to increased blood pressure, weaker immune systems and more inflammation throughout the body.
So, what can employers do? Here are three tips to help fight isolation at work.
1. Promote greater in-person communication. Develop programs that foster connection like affinity groups and volunteer activities. Invite employees and their families to a company-wide picnic. Stop by their desk for check-ins or ask your remote employees to connect on a Zoom chat face-to-face virtually. Reserve personal time in meetings so people can share something that they are excited about or how they are feeling.
2. Encourage older workers to mentor younger workers. The study showed that Baby Boomers and workers over age 72 are the most likely to feel that they generally have people they can turn to at work and who understand them, with only 18% reporting feelings of isolation and loneliness. Empower older workers to spend time mentoring younger workers.
3. Provide outreach to anyone who may be struggling. If you notice a colleague who is emotionally down, let them know you noticed. Ask if you can help. Everyone experiences feelings of loneliness, encourage your team to be on the lookout and to help where needed.