Who has the loneliest job in America?

‘Happy Hour’ is an HR Dive column from Reporter Ginger Christ. Follow along as she dives into some of the offbeat news in the HR space.

I’ve worked from home for the past four years, after a layoff and the COVID-19 lockdown sent me scrambling to find work I could do from the safety of my home. 

In the past, I’ve moved for work, packing up and relocating wherever the next byline landed me. But the pandemic — and finally finding a home — grounded me. I didn’t want to leave. 

So now, every day, instead of hopping on a bus or train to the office or lugging my laptop to my car, I wander about 20 steps from my bedroom to my dining room and start my day, often clad in yoga pants. 

At first, I hated it. I’m an extrovert who is fueled by being around people; in the office, I would sometimes wear headphones so other people wouldn’t talk to me, not because they were distracting, but because I was. 

But now, I appreciate the freedom — and the life — working from home has given me. I get to live within walking distance of my friends and the spin studio where I teach at night and am within an hour or two of all of my immediate family. I get to write articles, hop on video meetings and conduct interviews with one of my cats cuddling up on my lap or attacking my keyboard. I get to pursue a career I love from the place I want to live. 

But it is lonely.

My situation is hardly unique. As the return-to-office battle rages on, workers continue to demand flexible, hybrid and remote work options, eager to save time and expense on the commute and to have more autonomy. Despite its loneliness, working from home, I recognize, is a privilege. 

In a recent analysis of 750,000 job postings on Indeed, the team at Solitaired, an online game site, identified what they’ve deemed the loneliest jobs in America. Task associates, those who stock merchandise at stores, topped the list. Despite being surrounded by customers and colleagues, workers in this position can be lonely if they feel disconnected from those around them, the report said. 

Senior paralegals took second place, and, of the 20 loneliest jobs, five were senior-level positions, “which may mean some career fields get lonelier the higher you climb the ladder,” Solitaired said.

One freelance media consultant reached out to me for this story and said that when he left his remote corporate job to go solo, he also lost the connection of having co-workers. 

“Despite not being in an office, I never felt alone because I was always virtually connected to my co-workers at a healthcare tech company via Slack, Teams and email,” he wrote. “Now that I’m on my own, I still interact with clients daily, but I’m not in nearly as many daily meetings/calls as I was in a corporate setting, and that lack of interaction can be lonely at times.”

Reports have shown loneliness is pervasive across titles and industries. In November, Perceptyx, an employee listening and manager effectiveness platform, found more than 4 in 10 workers report feeling “very” or “somewhat” lonely at work. Of those surveyed, men, Generation Z and millennial workers were more likely to feel lonely, and senior managers were twice as likely to report being “very” lonely as lower-level leaders, per the report. 

As employee engagement and happiness continue to decline, experts recommend employers build a sense of community to combat loneliness. During an Academy of Management event last month, panelists said workplaces need to cultivate an environment that promotes respect, security, safety and dignity. 

I stay connected with co-workers via Slack channels — both work-related and not — and regular meetings and check ins. My company organizes opportunities for cross-team collaboration and learning and makes a conscious effort to connect its dispersed workforce. I take walks and remember the world outside my apartment. 

But, with anything, I think what helps most is admitting work can be lonely sometimes. In sharing our experiences, we become closer through that vulnerability. Just knowing you’re not alone in your loneliness makes things a bit less lonely. That said, feel free to send cat pictures any time, virtual friends.