New Survey Shows Increasing Loneliness, Including on the Job
Loneliness is a major public health concern and, according to a new national survey more Americans are saying they are lonely.1 Loneliness is associated with increased risk for both physical and mental health problems. The health impacts of loneliness are similar to that of other well-known health risks, such as smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and air pollution.2 Loneliness and social disconnectedness are also associated with increased risk for depression, anxiety and dementia.3, 4
Among the factors that increase the risk of loneliness are living alone, being unmarried (single, divorced, widowed), not participating in social groups, retirement and physical impairments.5
A recent survey from the insurer Cigna* found that Americans are becoming lonelier. In 2019, 61% of Americans were lonely (score of 43 or more out of 80 on the UCLA Loneliness Scale (.pdf)) up from 54% in 2018. More than half of adults (52%) reported feeling alone sometimes or always, up from 46% in 2018. Similarly, about half (49%) reported lacking companionship, up from 43% in 2018. However, more than three-quarters of U.S. adults reported having the close relationship providing them a sense of emotional security and well-being.
“Loneliness pulls us away from social connectedness and is becoming a real concern for employers,” according to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. “If not addressed, it can impact office productivity, morale and employees’ health.” 4
The national survey found workers are lonelier when
- They feel as though they work fewer hours than they want
- Have poor relationships with their coworkers
- Do not have a good work-life balance
Men are struggling more than women in the workplace, the survey finds. Men are more likely to feel alienated from coworkers (32% compared to 25% of women) and more likely to feel a general sense of emptiness at work (41% compared to 29% of women). Men are also more likely to feel they must hide their true selves at work (43% compared to 34% of women).
Younger workers are more lonely than older workers. Baby boomers (ages 52-71) who are still employed are less isolated and more fulfilled by their work than Gen Z (ages 18-22) and millennials (ages 23-37). Retirees are the least lonely group by employment status (compared to employed, students, unemployed, homemakers).
The survey also found that heavy social media users are lonelier: 73% of heavy users are very lonely compared to 52% of light users. When it comes to telecommuting, the survey found that individual preferences about telecommuting affect loneliness. People who telecommute more or less than they want to are more likely to be lonely than those who telecommute the amount they want to or those who rarely or never telecommute. More than 45% or workers telecommute at least some of the time; more than 30% do so multiple times a week or more.
Reducing Workplace Loneliness
Employees report feeling less lonely when they can be their true selves at work and when their employers promote good work-life balance. They are also less lonely when technology helps them make meaningful connections with coworkers but is not seen as a replacement for in-person interactions.
When employees were asked about workplace benefits to help create a better workplace environment, having flexible hours is the most used and appreciated benefit. More than half of workers (56%) have used, or would use, flexible hours. Other top benefits include an environment that encourages work/life balance, an environment that encourages taking allotted time off, and the ability to telework.
* Online survey conducted by Ipsos for Edelman and Cigna in July and August 2019. Sample of more than 10,000 adults in the U.S.
- Cigna. Loneliness and the Workplace: 2020 U.S. Report.
- Holt-Lunstad, J. The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors. Public Policy & Aging Report, Volume 27, Issue 4, 2017, Pages 127–130.
- Rafnsson, SB, et. al. Loneliness, Social Integration, and Incident Dementia Over 6 Years: Prospective Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020 Jan 1;75(1):114-124. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbx087.
- Santini, ZI, et. al. Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and symptoms of depression and anxiety among older Americans (NSHAP): a longitudinal mediation analysis. Lancet Public Health. 2020 Jan;5(1):e62-e70. doi: 10.1016/S2468-2667(19)30230-0.
- U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. The “Loneliness Epidemic.”
- Center for Workplace Mental Health, APA Foundation. Loneliness: Why Employers Should Care.