Loneliness and work

During the past few months, several articles in the popular press have addressed the topic of loneliness and work. Many of the articles referred to an original Harvard Business Review piece authored by Vivek Murthy, titled  “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic: Reducing isolation at work is good for business.” Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States from 2014 to 2017. During his tenure and as he commanded the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, he helped address public health issues including the Ebola outbreak, the Zika virus, low rates of physical activity, the opioid epidemic, and more.

Vivek Murthy shares that over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely and that the research suggests this may be a low estimate. Additionally, fewer people today report having a close confidante than in the past, and many employees report feeling lonely at work, including half of CEOs. Vice Admiral Murthy goes on to describe the impact such perceived loneliness could have on companies, not to mention the health of workers.

As we understand more about our brain and our health, and the importance of social at each of life’s stages, it’s duly time for us to actively address how we can help our friends, colleagues and co-workers to build friendships and social support.  Certainly, loneliness relates to the work and research we do in support of Total Worker Health, where we acknowledge the powerful components of both work and “life” hours. Imagine the power of social supporters at work – or the devastation should we lack it, or perhaps worse, face non-supportive or antagonistic co-workers every day.

What is your organization doing to positively impact and address this issue? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Adopt policies and a culture of diversity and respect.
  2. Train supervisors to both recognize workers at risk of isolation, and learn supportive supervisory and team building tactics.
  3. Evaluate the current state of connections at work- look at the quality of connections, not simply the number.
  4. Make strengthening social connections a strategic priority in your organization.
  5. Encourage others to reach out and help others, and accept help when it is offered.
  6. Create safe and comfortable ways to learn about colleagues’ personal lives.
  7. Create opportunities for colleagues to get together and develop meaningful friendships at work and outside the workplace.

In general, we can all help ourselves, our family members, and friends to acknowledge the key to healthy relationships amongst friends, and build understanding of high-quality relationships. As we all know, and probably share with our own children or young people in our lives – kindness matters. It always has, but perhaps we are noticing its positive impact even more today. When my dad died awhile back, the outpouring of love, condolences and support from my work community meant more to me than words can describe, as it does to others during times of sadness and joy. I cannot imagine going through that experience without it, yet so many do. Positive emotions enhance performance and resilency, including a boost to all aspects of health.  This is how community works!


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