During the COVID-19 pandemic, people spent a lot of time isolated and indoors, which helped foster an environment where some people now feel lonelier than ever. The result is a loss of social connectedness—the degree to which people feel the social connections and relationships in their lives to satisfy their wants and needs. When social connections are missing, many experience loneliness and decreases in their health and well-being.  

In the International Foundation webcast “The Loneliness Epidemic: How Did We Get Here and Where Do We Go From Here?” Dr. Anjali Rameshbabu, founder of Health2Wellbeing, explores social connectedness in the workplace, moving forward with a holistic approach to improve well-being, and strategies for organizations to use in promoting social connections to reduce loneliness.

Social Connectedness and the Workplace

Social connections play a key role in people’s lives. Research shows when social connections are lacking, people are at a higher risk for incidences of heart disease, chronic disease, stroke, anxiety and other health conditions. Social connection creates positive effects such as lowering stress levels, promoting better health behaviors and outcomes, and improving disease management.

Dr. Rameshbabu said there is a decline in social connection both at work and because of work. She referenced a Cigna study which found a lack of balance in social connection and work when employees work long hours while also not having enough positive interactions. Those who most reported feeling lonely includes those engaged in low-paying work, those working too much, new employees and those in unstable jobs.

Social connections at work help to buffer the effects of stress, reduce loneliness and burnout, promote belonging and teamwork, improve performance and productivity, and reduce absenteeism and health care costs.

The Holistic Approach and Steps for Employers

A holistic approach aims to improve overall well-being to reduce loneliness.

In the webcast, Dr. Rameshbabu discusses her four-pronged approach for employers to follow with a series of action steps:

1. Science. This prong looks at what drives human behavior, including what helps us stay well and healthy.

Employer Action Steps: Look at what drives company culture and leadership behaviors to explore how to maximize the impact of these contributions.

2. Synergy. Synergy is what happens when efforts are combined to make an outcome more meaningful.  

Employer Action Steps: Consider improving well-being as a whole—including safety and mental health in the workplace, and overall workplace culture. Explore wellness programs to make sure they connect with the organization’s mission.

3. Equity. This prong looks at accessibility and devising strategies that are available to everyone.

Employer Action Steps: Devise strategies and programs that everyone has access to, even if everyone uses them differently. What works for one person may not work for someone else, but social health as a goal must be everyone’s priority. Build equity into how work is designed, as well as policies and benefits.

4. Culture. This prong involves looking at other cultures and what those cultures prioritize to help with better social connections.

Employer Action Steps: Look at what employees want. For cultures that prioritize family time, design the work environment, tasks, and work hours around making sure employees have time with their families. In cultures that prioritize food, have a collective meal break to bring people together.

Strategies for Organizations

A workplace can be seen as a community. Dr. Rameshbabu provided strategies for organizations to promote connection in the workplace to aid in preventing loneliness.

  • Wear the hat of an employee, manager and high-level business leader. An organization must have input from all three for sustainable behavior in the workplace.
  • Don’t have just one team party or one volunteer day. Standalone programs are less effective. Something more sustainable and consistent to bank on is needed.
  • Create a positive work environment. How employees feel every day on the job matters; people want to be happy where they work. Those who feel a sense of belonging are more likely to stay.
  • Strategies integrated into daily work tasks are more likely to be sustainable. In project management, for example, employers need to think about how they set project goals and keep in mind that employees work a certain number of hours. Don’t have unrealistic deadlines. Plan workflow so employees don’t have to work overtime. People need time off to promote recovery.
  • Adopt a workplace culture that is inclusive and promotes belonging.
  • Benefits and policies should cater to everyone in the workplace—A way to do that is to ask people what they want and what they will use.

To view the entire webcast recording, visit www.ifebp.org/webcasts.
For more resources on combatting loneliness, visit www.ifebp.org/benefitsday.

Developed by International Foundation Information Center staff. This does not constitute legal advice. Please consult your plan professionals for legal advice.

Amanda Wilke

Amanda Wilke, Information/Research Specialist Favorite Foundation Service: Today’s Headlines – they are fun to work on and our members appreciate them! Benefits Topics That Interest Her Most: Work/life balance, vacation plans, unique benefits Personal Insight: In her role as a Foundation Info Specialist, Amanda keeps busy answering member questions in all areas of employee benefits. At home, she puts these same skills to work fielding the many questions of her two children. When she’s not on Q&A duty, Amanda enjoys travelling and watching sports.

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