Technology allows us to speak with others across the country and around the world without having to leave the office. While these modern-day opportunities may be convenient, they can actually be contributing to loneliness. As human beings, we all have an innate need to be connected to others, to belong. Loneliness pulls us away from that social connectedness and if not addressed, it can impact office productivity, morale, and employees’ health.
Research shows that the impact of loneliness on mortality is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day in health care outcomes and costs. Negative consequences of loneliness include, among others:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Compromised immunity
- Increased risk of depression
- Shortened lifespan
Like many mental health conditions, a stigma exists with loneliness. Most people don’t feel comfortable and may feel ashamed to disclose their feelings of loneliness. This is likely due to fear of being negatively judged and treated differently by others. Ironically, the technology connecting us in and out of the workplace is the same technology that contributes to isolation. Despite the technologically advanced world we live in, more than 40% of American adults report experiencing loneliness. Additionally, loneliness has a significant effect on work output, limiting individual and team performance, reducing creativity and impairing reasoning and decision making.
Factors that contribute to loneliness include:
- Teleworking—employees working virtually may feel cut off from the rest of the team.
- Introverts and Extroverts—introverts working on a team of extroverts may feel they cannot get a word in edgewise. Whereas extroverts surrounded at work by introverts can find it difficult to form workplace relationships.
- Personality Differences—office misunderstandings are common, but if not resolved, feelings of resentment can build up, eventually leading to self-imposed isolation.
- Lack of Social Support—employees may display signs of mental sluggishness that impairs productivity, stifles creativity and hinders decision-making.
If prolonged, these issues can lead to:
- Diminished productivity
- Physical and emotional stress
- Withdrawal from the team or absence from work
- Weaker team performance
This directly impacts an organization’s revenue, spending and organizational performance. The mental and physical effects of social isolation lead to higher costs for sick leave and health insurance claims. On the other hand, positive social relationships strengthen employee retention and productivity—positively impacting the bottom line. The best way to tackle loneliness in the workplace is to build a culture of connection and community.
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Take interest in people’s lives
- Remember the little things
- Tackle exhaustion
- Remember virtual colleagues
- Leave your desk once in a while
- Ditch the technology for a bit
- Be proactive about contact with others
About Grace Kim:
Grace Kim is a Resident in Counseling providing services at the Woodbridge location. She is a Qualified Mental Health Professional for Children (QMHP-C) and a National Certified Counselor (NCC). Grace has extensive experience in providing outpatient counseling services to children, adolescents, and young adults. She also has sufficient experience working with adult clients with longstanding substance abuse issues. She is an individual who has had her own share of mental health challenges and, with the help of those around her, has been able to overcome obstacles and barriers in her life. To learn more about Grace, visit HERE.