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Entrepreneurship can be a lonely endeavor. Working nights and weekends to get your dream off the ground can mean a lot of time working alone--not to mention a lot time trying to convince skeptics to take a chance on you. 

It’s easy to forget that your employees could be lonely too. You could argue that it’s not your job to make sure your workers connect socially at work. After all, if you’re paying them a fair wage and giving them an opportunity to flourish professionally, what more can or should you do?

New data suggests that you should be thinking about this. On Thursday, health insurer Cigna released its 2020 U.S. report on loneliness and the workplace, surveying 10,441 adults across the country. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they were lonely--up 7 percent from last year’s report--including 69 percent of employed Millennials and more than 80 percent of employed Gen Zers. The study also found that lonely workers are significantly more likely to miss work due to illness or stress, and less likely to feel consistently productive or confident in the quality of their work.

In other words, this study reinforces four simple words: Your company culture matters. This past September, I spent weeks asking successful founders, CEOs, and chief people officers about their philosophies for company culture. Their answers were shockingly similar: Only hire people you want to work with. Give them responsibility and let them dictate the best way to handle it. Stop worrying about how many hours they’re working, and focus instead on the nature of their results.

"We can't measure how long you work," GitLab founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij told me. "We don't want to measure it. We don't want your manager to even talk about it with you unless they think you work too much."

The Cigna report suggested a few potential explanations for the rise in loneliness. It noted that the amount you work matters--people who worked less than they wanted reported higher levels of loneliness, presumably because nobody enjoys sitting at a desk and twiddling their thumbs. (PSA: As Sijbrandij noted, that’s no excuse to overwork your employees.) Respondents also identified their relationships with their colleagues and sense of work-life balance as important: There’s a correlation in the data between being less lonely and having colleagues to eat lunch with, or even being able to identify a “best friend” at work.

That’s because emotions are contagious. If one of your employees is lonely, that could rub off on the rest of your office. And that could have serious implications for your company’s ability to do business.

So take a look at your culture. And, if you need to, start making some changes. The sooner, the better.

Published on: Jan 24, 2020