The World Health Organization recently declared loneliness to be a pressing global health threat, its mortality effects equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Workplaces have a unique opportunity to help combat the loneliness epidemic by fostering community, connection, and belonginess within their organizations.

Building a culture of community in the workplace can help employees make meaningful connections and overcome feelings of loneliness. Tuesday, April 2 is National Employee Benefits Day and we’re breaking down the definition of loneliness, its impact on workplaces, and steps employers and plan sponsors can take to combat loneliness within their own organizations.

What Is Loneliness?

One thing I learned when I dove into more research on loneliness is that loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean being ALONE. It’s defined as the gap between the social connection we want to have with others and the connection we feel we actually do have. As that gap gets larger, we describe that as greater and greater loneliness. According to Dr. Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, and Founder of Project Unlonely, there are three types of loneliness:

  1. Social loneliness: Feeling like you don’t have anyone around; feeling like you don’t belong
    anywhere; feeling disconnected from others
  2. Emotional loneliness: Feeling abandoned or excluded
  3. Existential loneliness: Feeling separate from the rest of the world; feeling misunderstood

Ongoing loneliness can damage our mental and physical health.

What’s the Impact on Workplaces?
Rising rates of loneliness among workers during the pandemic have put the well-being of employees top of mind for many organizations as they think about the future of work. Organizations are starting to focus on building structures and practices to support psychological safety and belonginess in the workplace, realizing loneliness causes health problems, reduced productivity, turnover, and burnout.

What Can Employers/Plan Sponsors Do?
The workplace is the single best place to create social capital. Workplace leaders seeking to improve employee and organizational wellness should include resources aimed at fostering connection between individuals and across teams, creating opportunities for socializing and cultivating company culture that values openness, belongingness and communication. Without a new approach to facilitating relationships at work, employee isolation and disconnection will continue to grow.

Join the fight against loneliness this National Employee Benefits Day. Save the date for April 2 and visit for tools and resources to help build connections in your organization.

Anne Patterson

Associate Director, PR and Communications Favorite Foundation Product: Foundation Community. It’s like LinkedIn but only for Foundation members. They can post questions, share best practices, etc—all with fellow members who also live and breathe employee benefits. Benefits-related Topics That Interest Her Most: Mental health, diversity, equity and inclusion, behavioral decision making, family-forming benefits, payroll audits. Personal Insight: When she’s not busy keeping up with her two little ones, Anne finds joy in home renovation and décor, haiku writing, watching Jeopardy, crafting charcuterie boards, and bicycling.

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