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News » Loneliness epidemic plagues modern American workforce

Loneliness epidemic plagues modern American workforce

Photo from Getty Images

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES — More Americans are grappling with profound loneliness with the way they work – increasingly digitally connected yet personally disconnected.

Data from a Cushman & Wakefield study reveals that in-office employees now spend about a quarter of their workday in virtual meetings, with only 8% dedicated to in-person interactions. Meanwhile, 58% of U.S. adults reported feelings of loneliness, up from 46% in 2018, according to a recent Cigna survey.

Nick Skarda, a 29-year-old juggling two jobs in San Diego, embodies this growing trend. “I feel sort of an emptiness or lack of belonging,” he told the Wall Street Journal

“It makes it harder to go in and give it your all if you don’t feel like anyone is there rooting for you.”

Productivity costs of loneliness for businesses

Companies are starting to recognize the business implications of this loneliness, which include increased staff turnover and higher absenteeism, costing businesses like Cigna an estimated $154 billion annually.

Kelly Roehm, a former consultant, recalls the isolating effect of back-to-back virtual meetings: “It’s like you’re a zombie, there but not there,”

Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet notes, “There are only so many memes and jokes you can send over Slack,” pointing out the limitations of digital communication in replacing genuine human interactions. 

“We tend to have more and more people with back-to-back calendars, more meetings and less connections.”

Fostering human connection in a virtual era

As the American workday becomes more faceless, employers are recognizing the need to prioritize social connectivity. 

Companies like 1-800-Flowers.com are implementing initiatives to foster engagement, such as increasing its mandatory in-office days and designating lunch hosts encouraging conversation among colleagues.

“Work is social, it’s a lot more than a paycheck,” says James McCann, founder and chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com.

Ernst & Young and new ventures like Peoplehood are also exploring structured ways to enhance connectivity, emphasizing the value of real conversations over purely transactional interactions.

As Julie Rice, co-founder of SoulCycle, notes, “Whatever relationships we had pre-Covid have sort of run out of gas.” Employers must now lead the charge in reigniting those vital human connections, for the well-being of their workforce and the productivity of their businesses.

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