Loneliness is the new smoking.

Ten Ways Employers Can Battle Isolation and Loneliness

The holiday season causes many of us to consider those around us who may be experiencing loneliness. The fact, however, is though the sense of loneliness may be heightened during the holidays, it is a year-round epidemic.  We would be wise to expand our concern for the isolated and lonely beyond the holidays. This is certainly true for employers.

How big of an issue is loneliness? One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people.* The wellness catchphrase from a few years ago was “Sitting is the new smoking.” Now, it’s “Loneliness is the new smoking.” In the 2023 Surgeon General’s Advisory, Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation**, we find these words:

The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.**

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States opens this Advisory with a letter in which he states, “We have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis.”**

As I help employers with their wellbeing campaigns, there is often a very good understanding of the negative impact of tobacco on our health and subsequent healthcare claims. Yet we often miss the negative impact of isolation and loneliness.

Though often linked, Isolation and Loneliness are not the same.  Loneliness is more of a feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of contact with others. Loneliness is often subjective and a perception of isolation or inadequate meaningful connections. Loneliness is the result of a person’s unmet needs for social interaction.  Isolation results from having few social relationships, social roles, group memberships, and infrequent interaction with others.**

What can Employers do to combat loneliness and isolation?

  1. Make social connection a strategic priority in the workplace.**
  2. Sponsor educational webinars and Lunch & Learns on the importance of social connection and the dangers of loneliness and isolation.
  3. Encourage leadership to serve as examples of expressing themselves authentically. As leaders become more personally transparent and share openly, they will by example help foster deeper relationships for employees.
  4. Provide opportunities for employees to share meals. Create breakrooms and common spaces that entice employees to come together for lunch.
  5. Encourage and incentivize employees to engage with others through volunteering. IMA Financial incentivizes volunteering by sending a $500 check to an organization for every 20 hours an employee volunteers with the organization.
  6. Develop and provide funding for employer-sponsored interest groups. Whether it’s gardening, reading, parenting, diversity, sports, or other commonalities, support employees to connect around shared interests.
  7. Support spiritual wellbeing as “faith-based groups can be a source for regular social contact, serve as a community of support, provide meaning and purpose, and create a sense of belonging around shared values and beliefs.”**
  8. Create attractive and comfortable space both indoors and outside that provides opportunities for employees to gather in small groups.
  9. Put in place policies that protect workers’ ability to nurture their relationships outside work, including respecting boundaries between work and non-work time.**
  10. Celebrate employee milestones, including birthdays, employment anniversaries, promotions, and successes.

Many of our employees are experiencing loneliness and isolation. It is affecting their mental health. It also affects their productivity on the job. By making deliberate and concerted efforts we can help reduce the impact of loneliness and isolation among our workforces.


*The Six Conversations. Heather Holleman. Moody Publishers. 2022.

**Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, The U. S. Surgeon General’s Advisor on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. 2023

Jack W. Bruce, Director of Wellness – Atlanta

  • Population Health
  • Employee Wellness & Wellbeing
  • Human Resources
  • Instructor for Adult Mental Health First Aid
  • Instructor for Youth Mental Health First Aid
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