American adults are a surprisingly lonely cohort, according to a recent study, and health officials have even classified loneliness as an epidemic. What's not surprising is that the place where you spend a huge chunk of your week -- your workplace -- can have a significant impact on the amount of loneliness you feel, with some professions being more prone to the problem than others.
Americans continue to struggle with loneliness despite being attached to social networks, sending myriad texts, and consistently communicating via technology. That's because, as research shows, social media's effect on how isolated or lonely you feel really depends on how you use it. If you use social to stay connected to others, then it will have a positive impact, but if you're simply scrolling through your news feed, there's often a negative effect.
Cigna's recently released bombshell report surveyed 20,000 adults nationwide using the UCLA loneliness scale and found that 54 percent of respondents sometimes or always feel that no one knows them well. The health insurer's report gave America a loneliness score of 44, meaning "most Americans are considered lonely." Not only does this have huge ramifications from a societal perspective, but such figures indicate what many entrepreneurs and business leaders already know: Work life can contribute to long-term bouts of loneliness if you're not careful.
The Consequences of Loneliness Are an Incentive to Take Action
Employees everywhere struggle with isolation, especially founders or executives carrying tremendous responsibility. When the work piles up, so does the overwhelming sensation of being the lone person who can solve issues or right a listing ship. What's worse, many go-getters tend to avoid delegation and collaboration, whether due to personality traits or the time crunch. Consequently, responsibilities get handled, but at a cost.
Loneliness can impact your physical health and your company's bottom line. Staffing agency Adecco suggests that happy workers improve productivity and help their companies outperform competitors by roughly 20 percent.
The number of Americans employed full time has risen significantly in the past decade, and those workers are spending an average of 44 hours per week on the job, according to CreditLoan.com's recently updated analysis of the state of the workweek. Ultimately, employers owe it to the future of their companies and their personnel to put measures in place to chip away at the growing sense of collective emotional isolation.
1. Model and value work-life boundaries.
No one said being at the helm of a growing company would be easy, nor that it wouldn't occasionally lead to feelings of loneliness. However, entrepreneurs who successfully juggle work and private needs tend to experience far less isolation. At the same time, they help the people around them see that it's possible to maintain a sense of belonging even if you have a full plate at work.
Does this mean you need to be the poster child for the proverbial "work-life balance"? Not really -- it turns out the notion of true balance is something of an urban legend. A better solution is to carve out moments of personal time amidst the chaos of commitments. These could be 30 minutes here or there rather than huge chunks of time. Remember that being flexible with your employees' schedules can also give them valuable opportunities to reconnect with others and push aside creeping feelings of loneliness.
2. Know the difference between being alone and being lonely.
It's understandable to think that a worker who's alone might be lonely, but that isn't necessarily the case. Some people prefer solitude at work. In fact, proactive bouts of solitude can be a good way to recover from stress. When you insert periods of purposeful separateness into your days and weeks, you empower yourself by taking charge of your time. And an improved sense of empowerment always helps when tackling loneliness.
Individuals require varying degrees of downtime to recharge, and many opt to spend that time alone. They're not feeling isolated during those moments but are deliberately removing themselves from the outside world. Encourage your people to embrace the difference, and practice alone time yourself.
3. Construct a diverse team.
You can combat isolation at your company by hiring a diverse team. What makes diversity a secret weapon against loneliness? A lack of diversity can cause minority employees to feel left out. If they are better able to relate to others in their department or company, they're less apt to withdraw. For instance, given that 87 percent of developers are male, a tech-focused company might consider making a conscious effort to promote gender diversity. This can decrease the odds that a female employee will feel all alone in a crowded workplace.
To improve your organization's diversity, start with a comprehensive review of your workplace policies. Do benefits support social health and family involvement? Do you offer mentorship opportunities for those who might otherwise feel overlooked or forgotten? Fill in the gaps, and you'll foster a more cohesive, diverse working environment.
4. Ease your employees' financial anxieties.
It probably won't surprise you that money woes can make loneliness more difficult to handle, no small concern now that debt-saddled Millennials make up the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Providing financial planning services for your employees, paying for outside training or certifications so your team members can learn without the financial burden, and offering employees who go above and beyond a productivity bonus or additional paid time off can all decrease the financial pressure your team likely feels.
One unexpected benefit of fostering your employees' financial well-being is that financially healthy employees are more likely to get to know their team on a more personal level. And, the more connected a team member is to others, the more performance skyrockets.
What's the bottom line? While you can't completely rid yourself or anyone else of loneliness, you should make it your mission to reduce feelings of isolation for the betterment of your own health, the health of your workers, and the health of your company.