- As employers continue to assess the toll of recent events on employee mental health, they may need to pay particular attention to feelings of loneliness, according to a survey of U.S. adults conducted by Morning Consult and commissioned by Cigna.
- The survey of nearly 2,500 respondents found that employees experiencing loneliness were less likely than their peers to say they could work efficiently and perform to the best of their abilities. This contingent was also more likely to say that they were “mentally somewhere else” at work during the past three months, Cigna said. A 2020 Cigna analysis previously found that loneliness cost employers more than $154 billion per year in lost productivity due to absenteeism.
- Aside from productivity, employees experiencing loneliness were more than three times as likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs as their peers, Cigna added, while 3 in 10 employees who were lonely said they felt unwell or sick while at work in the past three months.
For many organizations, the location of work has shifted dramatically since the pandemic began. The advent of permanent remote work arrangements and other flexibility gave rise to concerns that workers may be dealing with isolation and loneliness, sources previously told HR Dive. Those feelings may have blended with the exhaustion incurred due to the mixing of work life and personal life, piling onto existing stressors.
But remote workers are not the only worker category that is vulnerable to loneliness. For example, a pre-pandemic survey by WebMD Health Services found that 56% of working women said they felt lonely and isolated either sometimes or always, compared with 44% of male respondents.
In its analysis, Cigna pointed to three areas employers could focus on to address workplace loneliness. The first involved holding activities that bring employees together, both in person and virtually. Examples include town hall events, volunteer events and employee resource group meetings. Previously, employers have used ERGs to bring together groups, like caregivers, who may face similar challenges during the pandemic.
Providing employee benefits that support mental and emotional well-being also can help, but employers may need to be aware of cost-related barriers and other obstacles that have prevented workers from accessing the help they need.
Finally, Cigna identified diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives as a means of creating safe, welcoming environments for employees. A related concept, psychological safety, has been the subject of much recent workplace culture research. Creating a psychologically safe environment requires leadership buy-in, however, and involves collaboration beyond HR team members alone, one CEO previously told HR Dive.