Go Back
Understanding the depth of the loneliness epidemic, and its potential impact on business outcomes, is essential to make work ‘work’ again.

What does loneliness mean in the 21st century? Different from simply being alone, loneliness isn’t just about emotional distress. In fact, it has a significant and negative impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

The ramifications of loneliness are far-reaching. If organizations comprehended the depth of the loneliness epidemic and its potential impact on business outcomes, they would perceive it as a flashing neon sign urging us to reevaluate our workplace practices.

Let’s look closer at the impact of loneliness. Research from 2015, conducted by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris and David Stephenson, shows us the potential consequences of loneliness, which correlates with increased mortality rates and compromised immunity. Loneliness is associated with elevated blood pressure, cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia; moreover, it also intertwines with mental health disorders, anxiety and increased feelings of social isolation.

The Cost of Loneliness

You might think that workplaces where people typically congregate and experience social interaction would be exempt from loneliness. If anything, most of us have tried to find a little ‘quiet time’ in the office at some point.

Furthermore, as a place where we come together, isn’t the workplace in a prime position to actually have an impact on this impending threat? Given the trends, it appears whatever we are doing is not working. This paradox raises essential questions about the authenticity of workplace relationships and the emphasis we place on connection at work.

Leadership plays a pivotal role in addressing loneliness within organizations, and recognizing that this is an essential component of supporting health and wellbeing in the workplace. For those of you that focus on the bottom line and need more convincing, it also turns out that lonely people are more likely to experience worse influenza symptoms than people with lots of close connections.

The overall pace at which we are living life does not lend itself to allowing people the space to be seen and heard.

Considering the potential cost of sick days and company subsidized influenza vaccinations, actively addressing loneliness and promoting connection in your workplace might be a cost-efficient solution to fighting the winter bugs.

Corporate culture isn’t entirely to blame for this – the overall pace at which we are living life does not lend itself to allowing people the space to be seen and heard. Neither does it leave much time to acknowledge the human behind the product or service.

The rise of remote work and freelance careers also exacerbates the loneliness epidemic, underscoring the significance of human interaction in the workplace. We need to consider that according to the International Labour Organization, 61 percent of people worldwide engage with workplaces, highlighting the workplace’s potential as a hub for meaningful interaction.

Fostering Connectivity

To foster real connection at work, the sort that will serve to keep people safe from the loneliness epidemic, people need to be able to show who they are at work; certainly not just be part of a transaction. Without being able to share who you really are, you are not going to connect or link in with someone else and this is a breeding ground for loneliness: when you are somewhere but not seen.

You might like to ask do you ‘see’ your colleagues at work? What are the workplace practices that are in place to really ‘see’ people? Seems a bit daunting, doesn’t it? But like with anything, sometimes you just need to take the first step and the next one will be easier.

Perhaps in an interview, you might ask people: “How would we know you were stressed? Then if we saw these signs, what would be the best thing we could do to support you?” Then once people start with your workplace you could build on this and develop a self-care action plan consisting of what to look for and what sort of routines support employees during difficult times.

The loneliness epidemic isn’t just a personal struggle – it’s a systemic issue with profound implications for organizational dynamics and productivity.

By putting this in place we are saying to a person: “We want to see you, even when perhaps you are not at your ‘shiniest.’” What a powerful message this would be to people starting with your organization.

The loneliness epidemic isn’t just a personal struggle – it’s a systemic issue with profound implications for organizational dynamics and productivity. Recognizing loneliness as a legitimate concern is the first step toward implementing strategies to foster a culture of connection and inclusivity.

By prioritizing authentic interactions and dismantling barriers to connection, organizations can lead the charge in combating loneliness in the 21st century.

Sharon Darmody

Contributor Collective Member

Sharon Darmody is an Occupational and Organizational Therapist and Coach, author and a Co-Founder of Strive Occupational Rehabilitation. She has served on the Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association and is widely respected in the industry as she brings over 25 years’ experience in occupational and organizational therapy. Her new book, ‘Work your MAGIC’ is designed for leaders at all levels to help teams and individuals rediscover what makes work ‘work’ again and is a practical guide for creating a new work order. For more information visit https://www.sharondarmody.com/

Back to top