Survey: Loneliness Still Pervasive in the Workplace

The SHRM report found that loneliness, particularly among younger generations, risks decreasing engagement.

A new report has found that many in the post-pandemic workplace still report feeling lonely and looking to find effective ways to collaborate.

The findings are included in a report released last week by SHRM titled The Next Pandemic: Loneliness and the Power of Casual Collisions. Based on a sample of HR professionals and U.S. workers surveyed in late 2022, the report suggests that efforts to improve workplace wellness since COVID-19 have struggled to gain traction.

For instance, 35 percent of HR professionals surveyed said that loneliness is now more prevalent in the workplace than it was before the pandemic. Though a smaller proportion of workers overall (22 percent) say they feel lonely more often now than they did in 2019, the concern is more acute among younger workers. Nearly a fourth of Gen Z workers (24 percent) say they feel lonely on the job, substantially higher than the 13 percent of all workers who say they do. 

The report notes reasons to be concerned about those numbers: “When workplace loneliness becomes chronic, it diminishes performance and commitment.” The report also spotlights the impact of remote, hybrid, and in-person work on burnout. According to the survey, 38 percent of remote workers say they feel less burned out now compared to 2019; while only 18 percent of in-person workers do.

Nearly a fourth of Gen Z workers say they feel lonely on the job, substantially higher than the 13 percent of all workers who say they do.

John Hackston, head of thought leadership at the Myers-Briggs Company, says its own research revealed a similar dynamic. Overall, remote workers feel more comfortable at work. “When we asked people to what extent they felt accepted and included by their coworkers, we found that the remote workers felt the most accepted, while the office workers felt the least included,” he said.

Hackston noted, however, that the medium of communication alone isn’t solely the cause of—or solution to—feelings of disengagement in the workplace. Rather, he recommends that managers understand the personality types and communications styles of their employees to better manage their needs. “The differences between your location is actually less important than things like personality differences and support for things like sexual orientation,” he said. “Those factors can be more important in terms of whether people feel included.”

The SHRM report also spotlights the importance of what it calls “casual collisions”—spontaneous interactions among coworkers. Opportunities to meet that way are particularly important to the Gen Z and millennial workers surveyed: Nearly half (47 percent) of them say such meetings are more important now for career advancement, compared to 21 percent of workers overall. But workers overall credit casual collisions with an improved sense of well-being at work, according to the survey.

The study recommends building in more in-person team building exercises for workers—78 percent of workers surveyed reported positive experiences with them—and improved online collaboration tools. To the second point, Hackston suggests that organizations should think more intentionally about how meetings and other collaborative activities are managed, especially hybrid ones. 

“It’s really important that the organizer facilitating any video or similar online meeting treats it just as seriously, if not more seriously, than they would a face-to-face meeting,” he said. “Think about how you’re going to bring people in the room and how you’re going to have them talk to one another.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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