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Loneliness is at Epidemic Levels in America

Loneliness is at Epidemic Levels in America
Posted on Friday, June 5, 2020 by Cigna

Loneliness is not a diagnosable condition, but Douglas Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, says checking in on feelings of loneliness may help prevent long-term health risks.


In fact, loneliness may be more dangerous than obesity and has been linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression. It’s also been shown to be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

As we work to manage our lives during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, taking care of mental health, emotional well-being and understanding loneliness is more important than ever. Cigna is taking a comprehensive approach toward addressing loneliness and improving mental wellness in America.

Our Loneliness and the Workplace 2020 U.S. Report includes findings that highlight the impact of loneliness in the modern workplace. In addition to potential health impacts, loneliness contributes to lower productivity, missed days at work and higher risk of turnover. And, loneliness is expected to worsen with the additional stress, anxiety and feelings of isolation generated from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  

Get the answers employers are seeking during this uncertain time.

When employers and employees work together to combat loneliness, everyone wins. So, let’s connect with people more productively at work, virtually or in person, so that we’ll be more productive doing our work.

A Three-Pronged Approach for Employers

1) AWARENESS: Before employers can begin to alleviate the most significant drivers of loneliness among employees, they must develop an awareness of loneliness in their population. The top determinants of worker loneliness, listed by largest impact on loneliness, include: 

  • Employees feeling like they need to hide their true self at work
  • Using the telephone less than one prefers
  • Not finding one’s work meaningful or fulfilling
  • Misalignment between an employee’s values and their company’s values
  • Having a manager that does not advocate for them

Actionable ideas for lessening these feelings might include:

  • Encouraging employees to join or create an employee resource group
  • Asking employees to consider calling a colleague on the phone instead of writing an email
  • Leveraging technology to help them make meaningful connections with co-workers
  • Ensure there are active two-way communications channels so employees can be heard and receive up-to-date information
  • Hosting town halls where senior leadership shares the company’s vision and values, highlights meaningful work and listens to employee feedback

2) ACTIVATION: Employers can encourage and enable the types of workplace environments and cultures that are most effective in reducing worker loneliness. These may include more opportunities for meaningful coworker interactions and helping colleagues find common interests and goals. These efforts contribute to both the social and environmental well-being of employees. Loneliness is significantly lower among employees who:

  • Feel their co-workers are supportive
  • Find it easy to meet new people at work
  • Have good work-life balance
  • Have a “best friend” at work
  • Feel a sense of shared goals with colleagues 
  • Have strong communication channels

To facilitate meaningful coworker interactions and help build these workplace connections and relationships, employers can consider:

  • Creating mentorship or “buddy” programs that encourage employees of different ages, levels and tenure to get to know each other both in and outside of work
  • Volunteer programs that span geographies but reinforce the company’s mission and values
  • Schedule regular, but brief 15-minute “team check ins”
  • Sponsor virtual team lunches or coffee breaks with colleagues
  • Explore shared hobbies
  • Maintain a solid work schedule with appropriate breaks
  • Use video, if possible, so all employees may see each other during meetings


3) ADOPTION: Employers can consider offering benefits and programs that are more likely to have a positive impact on worker loneliness. In this way, employers can demonstrate their commitment to adopting a culture of well-being in the workplace. Regardless of whether their employer currently offers the benefit, employees who say they either have or would appreciate the following are less lonely:

  • An employer that encourages work-life balance
  • Flexible workday hours
  • Discounted gym memberships 

Other ideas employers may want to consider include:

  • Implementing work email blackout periods (e.g., 8p.m.-8a.m.) to help preserve work-life balance
  • Sponsoring social activities, in-person or virtual, to encourage co-workers to interact and team build


We’re here to help employees too.

To learn more about combating feelings of loneliness and how you can help others, visit Employees can also take Cigna’s loneliness questionnaire. Depending on their loneliness score, participants will receive suggestions on how to improve their mental well-being, and simple steps to increase social connections. Those more likely to be lonely are encouraged to talk to their healthcare provider at their annual check-up and reach out to others, while less lonely scorers are reminded that they can help someone else.

Loneliness is inclusive. When it comes to our workplace, employers and colleagues play an important role in helping co-workers feel more connected which is ultimately better for employees, employers and society as a whole.

Access Cigna’s latest efforts to combat loneliness in the U.S.: Loneliness At Epidemic Levels In America