If you’ve ever felt lonely at work, you know it’s possible to be surrounded by people at the office and to still feel completely alone. This feeling is isolating, and it’s a growing epidemic. After more than nine million people in the U.K. reported feeling lonely most of their days, the country recently appointed a minister for loneliness to investigate the issue. In the United States, over 40% of adults report feeling lonely.
The former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy outlined the stakes: We need to address this as a mental health crisis or it will ruin our societies.
“Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” he wrote. “If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and in society.”
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To understand the feeling better, one group of researchers collected data on loneliness in the workplace. What they found was that there are some careers and employees who are particularly at-risk of feeling lonely.
Survey: Lawyers, scientists, engineers have loneliest jobs
In a survey of 1,624 full-time employees, the researchers found that where you lived, or how much you earned were not great predictors of loneliness, but what you did for a living was.
Lawyers had the loneliest profession, followed by engineers and scientists, which aligns with other research linking higher rates of depression with these careers. Lawyers have very high odds of being diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, compared to others careers. Meanwhile, depression affected almost half of STEM graduate students at UC Berkeley.
If you want to feel less lonely, consider work that forces you to socialize with others. Social workers, marketers, and salespersons were the least lonely demographic group. Choosing a for-profit, corporate job over a nonprofit job also lowered your chance of loneliness, because for-profit employees reported feeling more socially supported than government and nonprofit employees.
Who we are outside of our 9-to-5 jobs also affected how we felt in the workplace. In fact, the researchers found that the number of people in your inner family circle determined your odds of loneliness — single, childless employees were the loneliest group, childless employees were lonelier than parents, and single, separated and divorced employees were lonelier than employees in relationships. Sexual orientation also mattered too — any employee that identified as lesbian, gay bisexual, or transgender was more likely to experience a higher level of loneliness than heterosexual employees.
How to feel less lonely
Helping colleagues feel less lonely is not just a feel-good topic, it’s a campaign that can improve your company’s bottom-line. Workers who were less lonely reported high levels of social support and shared meaning with their colleagues. They were 24% less likely to quit than their lonelier colleagues. They even improved their chance of getting a raise by 30%. For managers, helping at-risk lonely employees means making the workplace a community. That can mean highlighting team wins in meetings and checking in with coworkers one-on-one on how they are feeling.
On an individual level, creating stronger connections at work can be as simple as getting coffee or a meal with colleagues. Research has found that work connections do not have to be deep and intimate to be meaningful to us.
And remember: To feel connected to others at work, you must first feel connected to yourself. Developing a positive relationship with yourself means prioritizing your health and happiness as much as you prioritize your deadlines.
This is a lesson actress and showrunner Mindy Kaling was taught when she was feeling particularly lonely at the thought of losing her mother. “I said to her, ‘Mom, I’m going to be so lonely without you,” Kaling recalled in an interview. “And she just said, ‘You have to be your own best friend. If you always remember that, you will always have someone there with you.’ ”
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