Loneliness among workers is on the rise globally — here are 5 ways to combat it

Ernestine Siu
CNBC
As loneliness becomes endemic, it’s critical to find ways to protect against it. Here’s how you can fight loneliness, according to clinical psychologist Dr Annabelle Chow:
As loneliness becomes endemic, it’s critical to find ways to protect against it. Here’s how you can fight loneliness, according to clinical psychologist Dr Annabelle Chow: Credit: Cecilie_Arcurs/Getty Images

Globally, one out of five employees experience loneliness everyday, and younger staff are even more prone to the feeling.

According to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report released on June 12, as many as 20 per cent of employees globally experience daily loneliness. For those who always work from home and workers under the age of 35, loneliness is even more common at 22 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.

Globally, employee wellbeing declined in 2023, particularly among younger employees (under age 35), according to the study. Not only is the global workforce experiencing loneliness, but stress, sadness, and anger are also on the rise, according to the Gallup poll.

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“The global deterioration of mental health is concerning. Some worry we’re spiraling out of control,” Gallup CEO Jon Clifton said in the report.

“If humanity’s mental health is rapidly declining during a golden era of progress and prosperity, it would present one of the greatest paradoxes of our time,” he wrote.

This study pulled data from the Gallup World Poll conducted across more than 160 countries and areas globally.

“Work plays a central role in our identities, our social lives, our finances, our health, and our standing and involvement in our communities,” Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace Jim Harter said.

“We’ve all experienced changes in our workplaces since the pandemic hit in and around 2020 — there have been some unintended consequences of flexibility and physical distance—it can turn into mental distance,” Harter said.

As loneliness becomes endemic, it’s critical to find ways to protect against it. Here’s how you can fight loneliness, according to clinical psychologist Dr Annabelle Chow:

Understand loneliness

First and foremost, we should notice how we perceive loneliness. Although there is a social stigma around the emotion, it is important to accept that it is a very common, human feeling.

“Loneliness is a natural, appropriate emotional experience, and everybody experiences it,” Chow said. “Loneliness is not the problem, it’s how we perceive loneliness — if we perceive it very negatively, then naturally our response to that becomes very negative, and then the problem snowballs.”

Rather, we should take a “healthy, balanced and neutral approach,” so we can manage the feeling more effectively.

We should strive to find the source of the feeling. Are we lacking sufficient interaction during our days? Or despite being around a lot of people, we don’t feel seen, understood or appreciated? Having this understanding will help determine the next steps, she said.

Meaningful connections

“What makes a happy life is meaningful connections,” said Chow. Without this, naturally, people will feel lonely, even if they have all the comforts in the world.

If one feels a lack of social interaction, Chow suggests putting in the effort to develop meaningful relationships with friends and work colleagues. Participate in office gatherings, approach people with openness, and put yourself in situations where you can connect with people.

“If we don’t give people a chance to understand us, if you don’t interact with people, then we will not actually give ourselves an opportunity to develop a relationship. If we don’t develop the relationship, — we have nothing to draw upon when times are hard,” said Chow.

It’s also important to develop different types of friends. Having your party friends, work friends, and your “heart-to-heart” friends, and in conjunction, cultivating the awareness to know which friend to contact when, she said.

Developing these relationships ahead of time will help deal with loneliness when it comes knocking.

Healthy habits

“If I spent my whole weekend on the sofa doing nothing and just doom scrolling, then naturally once you pass the stage of feeling well rested, you’re going to feel lonely,” said Chow.

However, having healthy habits and routines in place will help pull you out of those situations. “If you have something that you have locked into your schedule that is regular, for example, a yoga class — that daily routine that can help to remove those pockets of time that can amplify loneliness,” she said.

Cognitive reframing

Sometimes, the feeling of loneliness can stem from our own projections.

“A lot of my patients experience loneliness, and when we talk about it deeply, [we realize] they have preconceived ideas about how people perceive them, which may or may not actually be the truth, but then they respond to their version of what they think people think of them,” Chow said.

“For example, if I think that you don’t like me, and that may or may not be the reality, but — I become a bit more careful, a bit more defensive — and the natural consequence of that, is the relationship is not likely to blossom,” she said.

The remedy for this is to challenge and restructure your thoughts, Chow said. Instead of just carrying the weight of assumptions, have honest conversations.

Environment change

“One recommendation I often offer is taking yourself out of the environment that you find yourself lonely in,” said Chow. “If I have been cooped up in my bedroom the whole day and I feel very lonely, then the immediate action is to get out of my room.”

If you have been lying down for the whole day, then you should do the “opposite action,” said Chow. Go for a walk, or take a workout class on YouTube. If you have been isolated all day, then calling family, going to lunch with friends or engaging with them on social media can help, said Chow.

“Water is an amazing miracle strategy — so it could be taking a bath, it could be jumping in a swimming pool, going into the jacuzzi, taking a shower, making yourself a drink, (just) some kind of self care,” said Chow.

Often times, simply taking an action in a moment of loneliness can help dissipate the feeling.

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