loneliness at work

If there is one topic in the workplace that is thankfully discussed more these days, it is mental health – and the positive or negative impact work can have on it. More specifically, in this article, we are going to zoom in onto loneliness at work. We will be discussing the detrimental effects it can have on the employees and in turn also on the company. Finally, we will be looking at some ways to prevent or reduce the feeling of loneliness at work.

Table of Contents

    Why are we talking more about loneliness at work?

    Opening up about feelings of loneliness at the workplace is part of a larger shift acknowledging the importance of wellbeing in all of our lives. Our personal or our work lives. An increase in the pressures of toxic productivity and other factors leading to depression, disassociation, and even burnouts. This coincides and partly explains work trends such as quiet quitting and the Great Resignation. Fortunately, in recent years, the conversation around mental health and the work of de-stigmatising has come along way. We are starting to acknowledge the reality and real impact of these experiences. It encourages open conversation and sharing which can come a long way.

    However, these trends are only a fraction of what shows us how much work there still is to be done. It is not only the extreme cases of burnout that demand our attention. So, let’s start with tackling loneliness at work. It is worthy of our consideration in and of itself but can further lead to other issues we can encounter.

    In a Guardian article, a study from Relate (August 2014) is quoted. It suggests that “42% of people do not have a close friend at work.” This does not necessarily mean every one of those survey respondents feels lonely all the time. However, the observations are heightened when we consider that “we’re almost as likely to have daily contact with our colleagues (62%) as we are with our children (64%).”

    Create a survey in minutes

    • Create surveys based on our templates
    • Send surveys via email, links, API or individual logins
    • Analyse responses with filters & AI

    Try for free Trial ends automatically

    What leads to loneliness at work

    If loneliness at work is so prevalent today, what are factors that lead to this experience?

    Remote work and less face-to-face interactions

    The obvious first reason that comes to mind is the changes in how we work that were experienced more drastically in the pandemic. All of our work lives moved online – a trend that was here to stay. Many businesses still operate with some or all of the team remotely, or in a hybrid fashion. The disconnection and lack of face to face interaction can lead a team to feel like they don’t truly know each other. Frustration and lack of motivation and creativity can ensue – which can cause a strong feeling of loneliness. Some employees may not even be aware that the cause of their dissatisfaction is loneliness. A case study cited in this HBR article revealed that the “waning motivation and interest had nothing to do with the substance of his [the employee’s] work, but everything to do with the social context in which he performed it.”

    Or perhaps, employees are aware but do not feel supported enough to open up about it. Like we mentioned before, we are only at the beginning of opening up about mental health and its impact. There is still a lot of stigma and “just toughen up” attitude to get past.

    In a similar way, using only written communication can lead to misreading. Or to assumptions that may not be based on truth. We all know how easy it is to interpret and project a lot into a written message. An in-person conversation allows us to read tone and facial expression more clearly.

    Lack of channels and opportunities to connect

    However, it cannot be reduced simply to remote work. There are more factors that can lead even a fully in-person team to feel disconnected from each other. There could be a feeling that all contact between colleagues needs to be work-related. In this case, colleagues cannot form a bond that can be both personal and positively impact team work. Of course, there are classic water-cooler moments, coffee break catch-ups, or breaks in the fresh air to vent or relax together. Some employers may actively discourage those for fear of losing productive work time. This will actually backfire and lead to feelings of loneliness which then negatively affects productivity.

    Lack of support or empathy

    As mentioned before, a reason to feel lonely can be heightened by stigma. If employees feel like they are in an environment where they cannot open up about it, it will be worse. If we think our feelings will not be seen as valid or will be brushed aside, we do not feel comfortable sharing them. This will only make those feelings stronger. It all ties in with a generally unhealthy work environment, which is only focussed on productivity and revenue. A healthy environment focusses on a good team atmosphere and cultivating empathy and understanding.

    These are only few of the reasons that can lead to experiencing loneliness at work. Let us have a look at some of the consequences this can have next.

    What are some of the effectsof feeling lonely?

    • Mental health inside and outside work: Loneliness is only one factor which can negatively impact a person’s overall mental health. Work hours make up so much of our time that feelings of loneliness will not only affect us at work. They will also drag us down at home. It can also spiral into even more serious experiences like burn out.
    • Physical health: mental health does not simply affect our minds, as it would like us to believe. Its impact can very quickly become physical and can become detrimental to our overall health.
    • Amplify inner critic/imposter syndrome: When we are already feeling vulnerable, feelings of loneliness and disconnection fuel our inner critic. It can make us doubt ourselves and our performance at work or our respect within the team. While the truth may be that everyone in the team thinks highly of ourselves, it is easy to spiral and project our insecurities into thinking low of ourselves. In this case, imposter syndrome can take over. It makes us feel even more unsure and feeling like we do not belong.
    • Feeling disconnected and impacting team work: If we are feeling lonely and dissociated, it can be harder to work in a team. We may be feeling self-conscious and therefore afraid to share or participate in team work, thereby dimming our light.
    • Effects on social life: because these feelings linger even after work, we may not just be insecure or lonely around our colleagues. We can also feel an impact in our social lives outside of it.
    • Effects on satisfaction at work: Loneliness at work will dramatically decrease our entire satisfaction at work, because it is so omnipresent in everything we do in that environment. We may not feel heard or valued. Our motivation and ability to participate can go down. We can even feel like we are no longer being creative or innovative — or afraid to be so.

    The cost of loneliness

    While this is an overview of the significant physical and psychological ‘cost’ of loneliness at work, there is of course also a monetary aspect. While that should not be at the forefront of considerations, it is worth mentioning that it also impacts a business financially. A UK Government 2021 report on loneliness at work reveals that:

    The cost of loneliness to UK employers has been estimated to be £2.5 billion every year. These costs are primarily due to increased staff turnover (64%, £1.62 billion) as well as lower wellbeing and productivity (26%, £665 million), the impact of caring responsibilities (9%, £220 million) and ill health and associated sickness absence (1%, £20 million). At an individual level, the monetised impact of severe loneliness has been estimated as £9,900 per person per year, due to the impact on wellbeing, health and productivity.

    What employers can do to prevent loneliness at work

    Thankfully, there are measure that employers can take to prevent loneliness at work or processes that can help to decrease and tackle these feelings.

    Increase opportunities for interaction

    Whether it’s weekly check-ins, or short zoom calls designated to chat, or virtual coffee breaks, a few minutes of relaxed conversation can go a long way in forming connections and bonds among colleagues.

    Proper introductions when new hires are introduced to the team

    Don’t leave a minute at the beginning of a conference to introduce a new colleague. Have a dedicated introduction where colleagues can also connect on interests outside of work, whether that’s family life or hobbies.

    Planning team activities

    Whether that’s an online pub quiz or an actual team day out with bonding experiences, such as team games (anything that’s fun and silly will go a long way to break the ice – from playing lasertag to doing an escape room).

    Schedule some in person interaction

    This could be renting a co-working space from time to time where people can work and / or hang out in person. Creating opportunities of interaction also relates to the design of the workspace that will allow for those water cooler moments or quick coffee break chats or rants.

    Give employees the opportunities to give feedback

    Being able to articulate feedback earnestly to their managers about processes and their personal mental health can help feeling heard, acknowledging, and exploring the roots of feelings. This all helps to nurture an environment, where employees feel welcome to ask questions and raise concerns. Forbes also suggests that a big start is for managers to be vulnerable in the first place, as they probably know the feeling of loneliness or isolation too. It helps your managers and you work through your feelings, but also inspires an open and trustworthy environment that reassures employees that you are actively listening to them.

    Having a dedicated mental health / wellbeing ‘officer’ / ‘champion’

    Appointing someone dedicated to mental health, not tied to the managerial suite, but among colleagues can inspire a more honest conversation. This should be someone who also offers support for emotionally taxing or difficult conversations. However, companies should also not be afraid to point to or hand over guidance or support to outside experts unrelated to the company.

    Provide open communication channels that are not monitored from managers

    In a similar vein, this provides a space, where colleagues can share and chat without feeling micromanaged. Being valued enough to work independently and being trusted is very important for people to feel satisfied at their job. It also promotes a space where employees can discuss their experiences among themselves.

    If you are looking to gather feedback and data that can help you tackle loneliness at work, having a specialised survey platform like or dedicated EX platform hands you all the tools and expert advice to get stared. Feel free to book a Netigate demo or explore our software with a free 30-day trial.