Loneliness is a severe problem in many workplaces. Employees who feel lonely are less productive, have lower job satisfaction, and are more likely to experience mental health issues. Many factors can contribute to workplace loneliness, and there are several ways to reduce or mitigate it.
Statistics on Workplace Loneliness
The workplace is one of the most common places where people can feel lonely, and a study found that workplace isolation can lead to a 21% decrease in job performance (Mulki and Jaramillo, 2011).
Absenteeism can cost companies billions of dollars. In fact, another study found that loneliness in UK employees costs employers £2.5 billion per year (New Economic Foundation, 2017).
Loneliness is a significant contributing factor to absenteeism, as employees who feel lonely are twice as likely to miss a day of work due to illness and five times more likely to miss work due to stress (Cigna, 2020).
Although almost a quarter (23%) of remote workers struggle with loneliness (Buffer, 2023), C-level employees are the most likely to find working from home isolating (72%) (Dialpad, 2023). Working from home can be isolating for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for those who are used to working in an office environment or enjoy social interactions.
Thus, loneliness can be a serious problem affecting not only employees’ mental health but also the bottom line for businesses. It’s important to be aware of the signs of workplace loneliness and take steps to prevent it.
Causes of Workplace Loneliness
There are many causes of workplace loneliness, including the location of the workplace, the type of work done, the social support (if any), and the workplace’s size.
Remote workers can feel isolated because they’re more likely to have less physical contact and meaningful social interaction with colleagues than hybrid or non-remote workers. If an organization has both remote and hybrid workers, remote workers may feel left out of conversations and camaraderie that may happen within an office space.
The type of work can also be a cause of loneliness. For example, if an individual’s job is very solitary or if they have few opportunities to interact with others during the day, there is a higher likelihood that they may feel lonely. Additionally, if an individual’s job is high-stress or demanding, they may not have as much energy to socialize in the first place.
Social support is closely related to the company culture at the workplace. If employees do not have any close friends at work or feel like they do not fit in with their coworkers, they may feel lonely.
Additionally, it’s important to consider how each employee is treated. If an individual’s coworkers or managers are not supportive or friendly, they may feel isolated at work, leading to low employee retention.
Size of Workplace
For individuals that work in a large company with hundreds or thousands of employees — mainly when they are all distributed across the globe — it’s challenging for them to get to know every coworker and may feel like just another face in the crowd.
On the other hand, if an employee works in a startup or a small business with only a few employees, they may feel like there is no one “new” to talk to during breaks or after work hours, or the conversations are very centered around the business as opposed to more personal topics.
The Effects of Workplace Loneliness
Workplace loneliness can lead to social isolation and feelings of disconnection from others, leading to decreased job satisfaction and productivity.
Ultimately, this can have a snowball effect on employees. When individuals feel lonely, they may begin to withdraw from social interactions and become isolated from others. Furthermore, this isolation leads to decreased job satisfaction because individuals may feel like they have no one to talk to about their work or that their work is not fulfilling.
It can further lead to decreased productivity, as individuals may have difficulty concentrating on their work when they feel lonely or don’t feel motivated to perform well.
Loneliness can also lead to increased stress levels. Individuals who feel lonely may constantly worry about social interactions and whether or not others are judging them.
Increased stress levels can lead to several health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. If left untreated, these mental health issues can have serious consequences. When this occurs, it can affect a team’s overall morale and cause more problems.
Behavioral Health & Mental Well-being Companies
Browse and compare 1000’s of vetted vendors.
How to Identify Workplace Loneliness
Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Just because someone is by themselves, that does not mean they are feeling lonely.
Loneliness is an emotional state in which someone feels disconnected and isolated. It can be caused by several factors in the workplace, as covered above.
A few tell-tale signs to watch out for may indicate that someone feels lonely in the workplace. These include:
- Withdrawing from social interactions: If someone stops participating in social activities at work or talking to their coworkers, it may be a sign of feeling lonely.
- Decreased job satisfaction: If someone is no longer enjoying their work or seems disengaged from their job, it may be a sign of a more significant issue.
- Decreased productivity: If someone’s work performance starts to suffer or seems less motivated to complete their work tasks, it’s important to pinpoint why this is happening.
- Mental health issues: If someone shares that they are experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or stress, it’s essential to understand the source of these feelings and evaluate whether it’s related to feeling lonely at work.
How to Combat Workplace Loneliness: 8 Things to Try
Workplace loneliness can have serious consequences, but businesses can implement these eight solutions to help combat it and improve employee engagement.
1. Create a Human-Centric Culture
A human-centric work culture puts the needs of your employees first. By providing opportunities for employees to interact with one another, employers can help foster personal connections and relationships between them.
This can be done by hosting social events, creating company-wide committees or teams, or even offering incentives for employees to interact with one another. However, being mindful and ensuring everyone is welcomed and included is essential. In organizations with both remote and hybrid teams, both groups need to feel valued — not just one group.
Developing this type of work culture requires transparency and communication within the organization, which helps build relationships and trust. Thus, employers must have regular check-ins and feedback sessions and create opportunities for employees to share ideas and provide feedback.
2. Keep Video on During Video Meetings
According to Dialpad and WeWork’s State of the Hybrid Workplace, 57% of respondents reported encouraging employees to keep their video on during meetings to make them feel less isolated when working from home. Although this doesn’t have to apply to all meetings, such as an all-hands meeting, it’s great for smaller meetings or virtual team events.
Another study by Cigna also found that increasing the frequency of phone calls at work can help reduce loneliness, so long as it matches employees’ expectations so that there’s a proper balance — and the same can be said about video conferencing.
3. Conduct Regular Feedback Surveys for Employees
Employee feedback surveys are a great way to gauge employee engagement and satisfaction with the workplace environment. These surveys can provide insight into the types of activities and interactions employees would like to see in the workplace and areas that need improvement. Furthermore, surveys can help employers identify opportunities to foster a sense of community among employees.
It’s important to gather employee feedback at regular cadences, whether quarterly or annually, and take steps to make changes. This helps ensure employees that their workplace is comfortable and inviting and that their feedback is acted upon.
4. Manager Training
It is important to continually support the managers in your organization and train them on how to support their direct reports, create an environment of mutual respect, and foster diversity and inclusion. Additionally, managers should be trained to recognize and reward employees for their hard work and create a sense of community within a team.
You can also train managers to spot signs of loneliness and lack of engagement, like the ones shared earlier, and encourage them to act to reduce these issues. Finally, employers should recognize and reward employees for their efforts, as this will help further motivate them and create a more positive work atmosphere.
5. Create a Buddy System
Regarding onboarding, some companies like to implement a “buddy system.” This is where a new employee is assigned a more experienced colleague as an informal mentor who can guide and support them as they acclimate to the company and their job. Having a buddy can help reduce their stress, make them feel more comfortable with their surroundings, and even create a stronger connection between coworkers.
The buddy system doesn’t need to be solely for onboarding, though. For larger companies with different departments, a buddy system can be implemented where each employee is matched with another employee within the same department (that isn’t their direct manager or direct report) and incentivize buddies to meet on a regular cadence to help them feel less isolated.
6. Promote Employee Wellness
Showing that your company prioritizes employee well-being is another way to help reduce workplace loneliness. This can be done through initiatives such as offering free mental health services, organizing volunteer days, or providing discounts on gym memberships.
Additionally, consider providing employees with resources to help them find hobbies or activities they can do together, such as joining a book club or attending a cooking class. All of these activities help foster a sense of community in the workplace and can help reduce feelings of loneliness.
But it’s important for organizations, after deciding what corporate wellness program they want to offer, to measure its impact on the organization.
7. Encourage Breaks
Encouraging employees to take breaks is another way to help reduce workplace loneliness. This can be done by ensuring employees have time to socialize during their break times.
Taking breaks does not only refer to it throughout the day but can also encompass taking paid time off to refresh, reset, and rejuvenate. That way, when an employee returns to work, they may be more open to social interactions with other colleagues.
8. Host In-Person Retreats
If the employees are partially or entirely distributed, hosting an in-person retreat can make employees feel less alone. Annual (or semi-annual) retreats that allow all workers to be in the same space to strengthen their sense of community and camaraderie.
Retreats are great opportunities for social interaction, leading to stronger relationships among employees and allowing them to get to know each other in a more relaxed and informal setting. This often affects how individuals work together after the retreat in a positive way.
Just because employees aren’t complaining about feeling isolated doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue. Organizations should develop and encourage opportunities for social interaction to manage workplace loneliness.
Additionally, employers can foster a sense of community by allowing employees to give feedback on the organization’s policies and procedures, promoting wellness and taking breaks, and recognizing employees for their accomplishments.
Organizations must ensure employees can access resources and support, such as mental health counseling and wellness programs. With the right strategies, employers can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment that encourages collaboration, builds trust, and reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation.