Not So Fast:
Does work culture really make you lonelier?

Lonely-Not-So-Fast“Not So Fast” is an occasional blog series in which CultureIQ experts slice and dice claims around employee research. 

Last week NPR reported on a new Cigna survey of American workers and loneliness with the grim headline, “Most Americans Are Lonely, and Our Workplace Culture May Not Be Helping.”

While the article is full of interesting insights based on the global health insurer’s 2019 report, the headline makes no sense. Having work relationships helps prevent loneliness, studies say, and can also boost productivity, positive perceptions of an organization and engagement. And the NPR article doesn’t say otherwise. There is no evidence mentioned that workplace culture is changing in a way that increases loneliness (although working from home can isolate people from human interactions).

Good work relationships/balance = less loneliness

The Cigna survey found people with good co-worker relationships were 10 points less lonely on the 80-point scale, and those who reported a good work-life balance were less lonely as well. When colleagues felt like they shared goals, average loneliness scores dropped almost eight points.

Employees in the first six months of their jobs had loneliness scores more than six points higher than those who had held their positions for over a decade. Workers who said they had a close friend at work were less lonely.

More likely to be lonely

While it’s true that employees can feel lonely at work–Cigna’s 2018 survey on this topic pointed to a whole host of problems that worker lonliness can bring–work itself isn’t cited as a major cause. In its latest report, Cigna found that the factors influencing lonliness included gender (men reported being lonlier), social media use (heavier users felt more isolated) and age (young people age 18-22 reported being more lonely than Boomers).

What the real lesson of the study seems to be is that workplace friendships are important in nurturing better performance and health, and in battling lonliness. As Cigna’s Doug Nemecek said in NPR’s report: “In-person connections are what really matters.”  And they should matter a great deal to both employees, and the companies in which they work.

–Paul Mastrangelo is a CultureIQ Principal Strategist.

Resources: Nurturing inclusivity and friendship in your organizations:

–Download our 5 languages of love to show your employees you care

–Get inspired by an Air Canada leader’s story of how her company helped her soar above bias

–See how CultureIQ’s Culture Games show how to bring employees together on a budget