Learning & Development

Loneliness Is Causing Employee Burnout. What Are the Remedies?

When U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued the public health report Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in May, alarm bells went off in HR departments across the country. The report was disturbing. Adult loneliness is believed to be causing mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, sleep problems, and dementia, in addition to physical health concerns like heart disease and stroke. Healthline reports that “lonely workers take double the number of sick days a year compared with non-lonely workers,” which costs American employers untold amounts in lost productivity and absenteeism.    

What does this increase in loneliness-related health concerns mean for American employees, work performance, and workplace morale? If the problem is caused, in part, by employees working from home and feeling isolated, what are the remedies? How should HR departments address this alarming epidemic?

American institutions—namely corporations and schools—can surely step up and be part of the solution. In his report, Murthy states:

“Supportive and inclusive relationships at work are associated with employee job satisfaction, creativity, competence, and better job performance. Quality social support, social integration, and regular communication among co-workers of all levels are key in preventing chronic work stress and workplace burnout. These resources may even be linked to shorter recovery times and less missed work after work-related injuries or illnesses. Workplace connectedness is also associated with enhanced individual innovation, engagement, and quality of work, all of which can influence career advancements, income, and overall economic stability.”

There are, in fact, many ways for HR departments to make sure both remote and in-workplace employees are feeling connected and engaged, and corporate America can offer a boost to employee social lives. CNBC reports that “fully 88% of human-resource professionals believe offering mental health resources can boost productivity, while 78% said those options can increase the organizational return on investment, a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation found.”

Corporate wellness departments are getting more and more creative in finding teambuilding events that create happier workplaces, which are good for employee mental and emotional well-being and, as a byproduct, optimize employee performance. 

In finding engaging teambuilding activities, I find that two considerations are key: Find activities that help like-minded people meet and befriend each other, and find activities that get people out into nature.

Building Connections with Workplace Activities

Look for activities that are conversation starters or events after which people can talk about their individual experience. Activities like meditation, art therapy, escape rooms, and yoga are growing in popularity, and each has the added benefit of relieving stress and increasing mindfulness. They also attract employees with similar interests, hobbies, and tastes and are natural settings for people to foster meaningful connections.

Nature Bonding Outdoors and Indoors

Another great idea for getting introverted employees to come out of their shells and interact with each other is to offer nature-bonding activities. In Canada, doctors now prescribe “nature walks” in national parks and forests to patients with high stress levels. PaRx, a Canadian initiative founded by physician Dr. Melissa Lem, recommends that people spend at least 2 hours per week interacting with nature. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff recently unveiled a 75-acre Bay Area retreat, complete with walking trails, where employees can interact with nature. Corporate wellness specialists are also turning to activities like flower arranging, golf, rock climbing, hiking, and rafting to help people connect with the natural world.

The task ahead—to help the disconnected and isolated learn to reconnect—may seem daunting, but with some creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, HR professionals can take the lead in tackling the loneliness epidemic.

Talia Boone is the founder and CEO of Postal Petals, a farm-to-table, fresh-cut flower delivery service designed for people who like to make their own flower arrangements as a form of creative expression and self-care. Follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/talia-boone/.

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