Loneliness is severely affecting employees at work, study shows

More than 4 in 10 workers say they feel “very” or “somewhat” lonely at work, which indicates serious consequences for employers and employees alike, according to a Nov. 8 report from Perceptyx, an employee listening and manager effectiveness platform.

Men were twice as likely as women to report that they feel “very” lonely, and Generation Z and millennial employees were more likely to feel lonely than Generation X or baby boomer workers. Senior leaders were twice as likely as lower-level managers or individual contributors to feel “very” lonely as well.

More meetings appear to make the issue worse. Employees with meeting-heavy schedules were twice as likely as those with fewer meetings to say they were “very” lonely.

“It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s actually not surprising. Many organizations have replaced organic interactions with overscheduled time, particularly for remote and hybrid employees,” Emily Killham, senior director of people analytics, research and insights at Perceptyx, said in a statement.

“But employees tell us that it’s not having the desired effect. Simply being in a meeting with others doesn’t create connection or relationships,” she said. “In fact, spending most of the time in meetings is not good for the overall employee experience, which can bring out feelings of disconnection and loneliness.”

In the survey of more than 2,800 workers, loneliness was associated with various negative outcomes. For instance, lonely workers were 1.5 times more likely to be disengaged and 4.5 times more likely to struggle with productivity. They were also about 5 times more likely to have sleep difficulties, engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms and act negatively toward family and friends due to work stress.

However, simply returning to the office and being around others won’t solve the loneliness issue, the survey found. Although remote workers reported the highest levels of loneliness, only 35% of “very” lonely remote workers thought spending more time at the office would help. Interestingly, hybrid workers appeared to be the least lonely.

To help their employees, leaders should focus on the quality of interactions rather than the time spent in office or in meetings, Perceptyx recommended. Employees who said they feel appreciated at work or motivated by their company’s values were more than twice as likely to not report loneliness. In addition, those with a good connection to their manager were 1.4 times as likely to not report loneliness.

“Remote workers often prefer to work from home for specific reasons. Forcing them back to the office sends their engagement plummeting, which in turn drives up loneliness and all the associated health and productivity implications,” Killham said. “To solve the problem, employers need to create a culture of trust, respect, and cooperation — and, yes, opportunities for teams to spend some quality time together in person.”

A third of U.S. workers say their mental health is worse than last year, according to a June report from The Conference Board. Work issues create some of the largest mental health burdens, they said, particularly related to long hours, heavy workloads, poor workplace communication, poor work-life balance and time spent in meetings.

In other recent research from the SHRM Foundation, 1 in 3 employees said their job has a negative impact on their mental health. About 30% said their job made them feel overwhelmed, and 29% said it made them feel anxious at least once per week.

Among those experiencing loneliness in particular, workers are more likely to report negative effects to their productivity and health, according to a Cigna study. They were also more likely to say they were “mentally somewhere else” at work, feel dissatisfied with their job and feel sick while at work.