As US adults feel more isolated, employers can step in to help

HR leaders should ask employees how they’re feeling and train managers to connect with workers, some experts recommend.
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Anna Kim

· 4 min read

If you’re feeling lonely, you’re not alone. As much as one-half of US adults report feeling lonely, and it’s seeping into the workplace.

Some experts believe that it’s an employer’s responsibility to encourage workers to connect.

A persistent epidemic. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a report last May describing the loneliness epidemic, comparing its severity to tobacco use.

Murthy warned that people are spending more time online and less time socializing in-person. This trend has accelerated since the Covid-19 pandemic, and has led to increased loneliness. Research has found those experiencing loneliness have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and those without much social interaction have a 39% higher risk of premature death, NBC News reported.

Now, loneliness is following people, particularly women, into the workplace: A 2023 study from, an organization focused on connecting women and nonbinary people in business, in partnership with BSG and Berlin Cameron, found that 53% of women have felt lonely at work in the last month, while a 2024 report found that 80% of women in white-collar jobs reported feeling lonely because of work, and 41% said work was their loneliest time of day. And those who feel lonely at work are more likely to have lower job satisfaction and performance, according to a report from researchers at King’s College in London.

But a persistent stigma around mental health, particularly as it relates to loneliness, may prevent workers from sharing how they’re feeling. That’s compounded, for some women, by feelings that loneliness is their fault, according to Ann Shoket, CEO of “Loneliness is actually a signal, just in the same way that needing to eat or being hungry is the signal that you need to eat,” she explained. “Being lonely is a signal that you need to deepen your connections.”

Combating loneliness at work. US employees spend up to one-third of their week at work, so it’s no wonder that their jobs impact their feelings of connection. But HR can take steps that may reduce loneliness for their employees.

This year, launched a campaign called 10 Minutes to Togetherness to encourage people to spend 10 minutes a day intentionally connecting with others to reduce loneliness.

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“If…everyone spends 10 minutes a day intentionally nurturing their communities, we can decrease that loneliness gap by 50%,” Shoket said, noting that it’s not about happy hours or corporate retreats, but the smaller moments that make a difference. “Check in on a colleague who has been on your mind. Drop a meaningful LinkedIn message to say, ‘That seems great, what you’re working on. How can I help?’”

Angela Jackson, founder of Future Forward Strategies, a human capital consultancy, said that frontline HR leaders can train managers to spot and help employees experiencing loneliness. She also recommended using surveys to understand how employees feel about their managers, something that can shed light on employees’ well-being: “A quick pulse check where they can get data to see where they can spot problems before they manifest into real, large issues that can impact both the employee and the bottom line” she said.

Daisy Auger-Domínguez, a workplace strategist and author of Inclusion Revolution, agreed. “It’s the responsibility of HR and managers to ensure that everyone on their team feels connected; that you reduce that gap of loneliness,” she told HR Brew, adding that loneliness can lead to further disconnection and less trust in the workpla

While some employees may roll their eyes at the prospect of more company meetings, they may be an easy way to help employees feel less isolated. “[It] turns out the all-hands meeting is actually one of the things that showed up in our research as the key to creating connection in the workplace,” Shoket said. “It’s transparency, it’s collaboration, it’s visibility, it’s connection, and it’s support from your company.”

Finally, Domínguez recommended that HR leaders ask employees what they need to feel more connected to their colleagues. Ask questions about what they need to do their jobs better, what’s holding them back, and what kind of leadership support would benefit them. “Those are the kinds of questions that a manager or a leader, and frankly, colleagues and good coworkers, should be asking each other.”

Correction 06/06/24: This piece has been updated to correct the spelling of Ann Shoket’s name, and to clarify that’s 2023 study was conducted in partnership with BSG and Berlin Cameron.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.