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The Loneliness Epidemic

A former surgeon general says the workplace is key to building connections

Loneliness epidemic

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Loneliness can affect your personal life, health and work performance, according to a new report.

We’ve said it before: Loneliness and social isolation affect over 40 percent of adults today; can shorten your life; and may be associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety. Now former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy contends that a lack of social connections in the workplace is contributing to a loneliness "epidemic."

In Harvard Business Review and in an interview with the Washington Post, Murthy outlines why rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s and how our mobile society, combined with new work models (telecommuting, remote jobs, computer dependency), has reduced office relationships and face-to-face social interactions — all of which are key to feeling happier, positive and more content.

Turns out, this lack of social connections doesn’t just harm our health, resulting in higher stress levels, which increase the risk of everything from heart disease to obesity; rather, “it’s also bad for business,” says Murthy. “Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work and less likely to fall sick or be injured.”

Given the number of hours many spend working, Murthy says that improving the office dynamic is a first step in turning this problem around. He recommends that company leaders do the following:

  • Evaluate the current state of connections in their workplace.
  • Build understanding of high-quality relationships.
  • Make strengthening social connections a strategic priority in the organization.
  • Encourage coworkers to reach out and help others — and accept help when it is offered.
  • Create opportunities to learn about colleagues’ personal lives.

Time is of the essence, Murthy implores. “We must take action now to build the connections that are the foundation of strong companies and strong communities — and that ensure greater health and well-being for all of us.”