- 3 in 5 Americans feel lonely, according to the results of a new survey released by health insurance company Cigna.
- A big contributing factor seemed to be workplace loneliness.
- Loneliness can serious health consequences, with some experts calling it as dangerous as smoking.
- To decrease workplace loneliness, experts told Insider they advise people to connect with colleagues on non-work related issues.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Three in five Americans feel lonely, with 58% saying they always or sometimes feel like no one knows them well, according to health insurance company Cigna’s annual loneliness survey. That’s an increase of seven percentage points from 2018.
The survey was based on the responses of 10,400 American adults, and used questions based on UCLA’s Loneliness Scale.
Cigna associates the rise in loneliness to the current state of American labor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American working a full-time job spends 8.5 hours a day at work.
“The trends shaping how we work – increasing use of technology, more telecommuting, and the always-on work culture – are leaving Americans more stressed,” said David M. Cordani, Cigna’s president and chief executive officer, in a press release.
Specifically, the report found that lonely workers thought about quitting their jobs twice as much as non-lonely people. Lonely people were also found to be less productive, with 12% saying their work was worse than it should have been.
Lonely people were also twice as likely to take sick days and five times as likely to miss work because of stress.
The research also found that newer employees were more likely to feel lonely, with 60% of newer employees saying they didn’t feel close to anyone. The longer people worked in the same place, the less lonely they were likely to become.
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Loneliness comes with serious health risks
“Without any autonomy of how you choose your time, and without any ability to choose who you interact with, these are legitimately difficult problems to solve in the workplace,” Jeffrey Hall, director of the Relationships and Technology Lab at the University of Kansas, told Insider.
While the real solution to the loneliness epidemic is a change in the structure of the American workforce, employees can take steps to improve their own workplace happiness. Here’s what experts recommend.
Seek out face-to-face interactions with colleagues for non-work related reasons
Not all social interaction is created equal, Hall told Insider. You can have a customer-service job where you speak to people all day and still feel lonely. But speaking to colleagues at work about non-work related things could satisfy that need.
One way to facilitate that could be to rethink your lunch break.
“Having a dedicated lunch day where you eat in a communal space could help, or even just leaving your desk for 10 to 15 minutes to get food,” Tonya Cross Hansel, program director of Tulane University School of Social Work, told Insider.
Acknowledging the loneliness problem and talking to your supervisors can also help, Hansel said. Ask if they’d support having a coffee hour; there might be a budget for communal activities you don’t know about.
“It doesn’t have to be a full day retreat to get to know each other,” said Hansel. “Just asking for 10 to 15 minutes of socializing can make a difference.”
If you do choose to eat or take a break alone, think twice before you check Facebook or the latest political news. “Make sure that your alone time is spent in a way that is actually restorative to you rather than stressful to you,” said Hall, like by calling a friend or taking a walk outside.
- Butch Dill / Stringer / Getty Images
Remote employees can leverage social media to feel connected
Hansel advises remote employees to find people online who work similar positions. Build a support network with those people who understand what your workday looks like.
Then, outside of work, consider getting involved in community service.
“People may not want to gather for happy hour,” said Hansel. “But they will likely rally around helping others.” And volunteering can be a form of empowerment for lonely people, since they don’t have to feel like they are the ones in need. Instead, they can socialize while giving back.