Loneliness is not just bad for people, it’s bad for business too

Are people in your team feeling lonely? Maybe you haven’t really thought about it? If you haven’t, you may want to give it some thought as loneliness is now being shown to reduce productivity and profitability in your company.

The loneliness epidemic – what is it?

This term refers to the increased prevalence of loneliness and social isolation in today’s society. Humans are social beings and while different people need different amounts of socialisation to avoid loneliness, we all need to feel connected to others in some way.

The main contributing factors seem to be the increased use of technology and working from home.

Let’s face it, it’s way easier to sit on a couch or in a home office and send a message to someone than it is to get up, get some respectable clothes on, and actually leave the house to go and meet others to socialise with them, or collaborate with others in the office.

Studies mentioned in the book Tomorrowmind are also now supporting the view that loneliness is not just an emotional problem, but a physical one too. Loneliness is reducing our mental health by promoting more depression and anxiety, cognitive decline and substance abuse, and the physical impacts take the form of increased cardiovascular problems due to elevated blood pressure and inflammation, a weakened immune system (which of course leads to many illnesses), and now even increased mortality risk.

“Is sitting the new smoking?” seems to be morphing into “is loneliness the new smoking?”.

And all of these above has been linked with declining productivity. So if your peoples’ productivity is declining, so too will your company’s profitability.

It has also been reported that loneliness leads to people being more dissatisfied with their jobs and more likely to resign the next 6 months.

Higher staff turnover, as well as the potential negative impact they are having on other remote co-workers while they are still there, are also leading to lower productivity.

Is getting up and socialising in real life the new “exercising”?

We know we should do it, but it’s just more comfortable to sit on the couch.

For the average human neuroscience supports that comfort trumps discomfort. Otherwise, many people would exercise religiously wouldn’t they?

Just as it’s easier to sit on the couch than to get out the door to do physical activity, the same could be said for socialising in real life. And the longer you go without either, the harder it is to get into again.

The latest Gallup report supports that people who work in the office 5 days a week are actually reporting lower levels of stress than those working fully at home, or in a hybrid way. So maybe loneliness is a part of this?

So what can leaders do to help their people reduce their feelings of loneliness and isolation?

Leaders should make sure they are fostering social connection. It’s not as simple and bringing everyone back to the office 5 days a week, especially if you have a toxic culture. That would be draining and probably do more harm than good.

That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that a certain element of not wanting to come back to the office is comfort. Just like some people might need some tough love to get them to the gym, maybe some tough love in getting people to the office might similarly yield some good results.

Often people say than they are so much more productive when they don’t have to commute to the office. Is this a time fallacy? People often argue that they don’t have time to exercise too, and yet the time taken to make the effort to exercise, more than turbocharges your productivity afterwards, so that you get more done in less time that you would if you hadn’t exercised.

Imagine what exercising as part of a commute to socialising with co-workers could do!?

And we know from the mirror neuron system in the brain that you can’t replace the power of being in the same room for building deeper connections, more quickly.

So leaders certainly need to make sure that the office has a culture that people want to come into. However, if people aren’t in the office, while it’s possible, it’s much harder to build that culture.

Now is the time. It won’t get easier in the future.

The more people use technology and keep working from home, the easier it is to feel more lonely and isolated.

Avoiding loneliness takes way more effort in today’s society, and that’s only likely to increase.

The working from home debate still remains a tricky discussion, but just like it makes good business sense to encourage their people to exercise, maybe encouraging people back to the office reduce the loneliness epidemic isn’t such a dumb idea.

We are working with many organisations to help them to develop their own high performance culture for sustained performance and optimal profitability. If you would like to find out what might be possible in your organisation, why not book your performance call?