Emmie Sahlan

Is America’s Loneliness Epidemic Impacting Your Employees?

According to NPR, nearly half of all respondents to a survey of 20,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and up reported experiencing loneliness and isolation.

While we may imagine that older people are more likely to feel alone, it’s members of Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, who experience the highest levels. Loneliness and isolation are emerging Generation Z health issues, and they can pose major health risks — including premature mortality — if unaddressed.

As loneliness becomes more pronounced among America’s workforce, employers need to know what to do. Here are tips to help employees who may be struggling with loneliness.

Causes and Effects

What’s responsible for the high presence of loneliness and depression among young people? One answer points to long hours on social media and less quality time with family and friends. NPR notes that some studies have found a correlation between time spent having face-to-face social interactions — as opposed to looking at screens — and a lower risk of depression and suicide.

Whatever the cause, the physical and mental health effects of chronic loneliness are not to be taken lightly. According to the Washington Post, researchers have found that social isolation can trigger DNA activity responsible for inflammation and suppress genes that generate disease-fighting antibodies. Adding to this, Quartz notes that loneliness can induce high levels of stress hormones that disrupt sleep patterns, in turn impairing concentration levels and reasoning abilities.

Worse, studies have indicated that loneliness can result in early death, including high risk of suicide due to depression. According to the New York Times, “As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity.”

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Loneliness and Work

As an employer, you know that the health issues outlined above can have a significant impact on your business, from the costs of sick leave and health insurance claims to diminished productivity and employee disengagement.

The workplace is also an environment where loneliness can be either worsened or mitigated, depending on company culture, management styles and the nature of the business. This means you have an opportunity to help guard your employees from chronic isolation and the host of health risks that comes along with it.

Here are some suggestions for promoting strong workplace relationships:

  • Encourage peer recognition: Set up systems that allow employees to recognize one another’s work. Not only can this promote motivation and engagement, but it can also make your employees pay more attention to each other as they look for accomplishments they can praise.
  • Communicate using a common platform: Get employees to share updates on social happenings and day-to-day updates on a common platform. If you’re concerned about adding undue screen time by leaning on an internal social media site, consider your options for setting up regular team or even all-company check-ins where your employees can get to know each other better.
  • Promote team spirit: On top of team-building activities, look for opportunities to introduce more collaboration into your workflows and operational processes. While independence and clear role divisions have their place, setting up situations that emphasize interdependence and teamwork toward a common goal can help lonely employees feel connected to their colleagues and central to important projects.
  • Make time for socializing: Create opportunities for employees to get to know each other better outside of a strictly business context by hosting social events like holiday parties, book clubs or volunteer outings. Offering a range of activities will improve your chances of getting everyone involved, while considering younger employees’ tastes may help if you’re targeting Generation Z health issues in particular.

Of course, there’s ultimately no substitute for investing in the tools and health resources that get your employees the help they need. Make sure they understand what options their benefits provide them, from coverage for mental health specialists to employee assistance programs. If you create opportunities for your employees to foster meaningful relationships with their colleagues and let them know they’re supported, they’ll be on their way to better health.

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