Feel Lonely at Work? Here’s Why That Matters and What You Can Do About It

business woman working alone in dark office
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Home-based workers love to joke about not having to put on pants or deal with a long commute, but there’s a very real downside to spending every day alone.

Working from home can be excruciatingly isolating.

The obvious answer seems be to get a job outside of the house, but that might not solve the problem either.

It turns out people today are terribly lonely, whether they work in their home office or are surrounded by colleagues all day.

In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy says the issue is so widespread that it’s becoming an “epidemic.”

Feeling Lonely in a Crowd

It’s easy to understand how people who work at home can feel lonely, but how is it that people who work in an environment with others can also feel that way?

“[E]ven working at an office doesn’t guarantee meaningful connections: People sit in an office full of coworkers, even in open-plan workspaces, but everyone is staring at a computer or attending task-oriented meetings where opportunities to connect on a human level are scarce,” Murthy writes.

I can relate to this so much.

The Penny Hoarder HQ is filled with some of the kindest, most entertaining people I’ve ever met. As you can imagine, the writing team is never at a loss for things to chatter about.

Yet there have been times when I’ve headed home at the end of the day and realized I’ve barely spoken to anyone. I’ve often been so engrossed in my research and writing that I might not notice a spirited game of cornhole happening right next to my desk.

On days like that, I feel disconnected from my team and, frankly, it feels lousy.

The Impact of Loneliness on Our Lives

Murthy says the physical impact of loneliness on our lives is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. He notes loneliness is also linked to cardiovascular disease, depression and dementia.

“At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making,” he explains.

Shining a Light on the Loneliness Epidemic

Murthy says more than 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, but he believes research indicates that number is actually higher.  

“I talk about this as an epidemic because it’s far more widespread than people believe, and like many illnesses that are related to our mental and psychological state, it gets swept under the rug and exists in the shadows. That’s why I speak about this with the urgency that I do,” he told the Washington Post.

Breaking the Loneliness Cycle

According to Murthy, people who have strong social connections at work are more likely to be engaged with their jobs and even feel more connected to the company’s mission.

He recommends workers make it a priority to get to know one another and find ways to build high-quality relationships with colleagues.

If you’re an introvert, that advice may make you want to run screaming in the other direction.

For you, the answer may lie in finding a career path that allows you to work independently while still allowing time to get to know the people around you at a level you’re comfortable with.

Whether you work from home or in an office, we’re all susceptible to feeling lonely. Remember you’re not alone and, chances are, some of your colleagues feel the same way.

Invite someone out for coffee or a snack and see where the conversation leads.

Or, if bonding with your co-workers is too unnerving, we’ve got a few other suggestions on how to expand your social circle.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She has no idea how to play cornhole but thinks it looks like fun.