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Disconnected: One-Fifth of Global Workers Now Report Experiencing Daily Loneliness

Did you have a meaningful conversation with another individual today? Are you feeling connected to your colleagues? Are you engaged in your work? For at least one-fifth of employees around the world, the answer to those questions is no.

A recent survey from Gallup, the State of the Global Workplace: 2024 Report, disclosed that most employees say they are struggling at work and in life, with 20 percent of employees saying they now experience daily loneliness. Twenty-two percent of employees under the age of 35 said they experience daily loneliness, compared to 19 percent of individuals over the age of 35.

“Fully remote employees report significantly higher levels of loneliness (25 percent) than those who work fully on-site (16 percent),” according to the report, which analyzed data from 183,000 business units across 53 industries and 90 countries.

And while loneliness has emotional ramifications, it also poses significant health harms that can affect workforces if it becomes a chronic issue.

“The risk of mortality among people who lacked community and social ties was two times greater than that of people who had many social contacts,” Gallup researchers wrote. “These differences were independent of physical health, socioeconomic status, and health practices.”

Alongside loneliness, Gallup tracked that employee engagement remains at 23 percent (equal to rates measured in 2022), disengagement at 62 percent, and active disengagement at 15 percent. Work location appears correlated with engagement rates, with exclusively remote workers reporting the highest engagement rate (29 percent), followed by hybrid (21 percent), and on-site (20 percent). Employee well-being also declined 1 percentage point (35 to 34 percent) in 2023.

“On many well-being items (stress, anger, worry, loneliness), being actively disengaged at work is equivalent to or worse than being unemployed,” according to the report. “In contrast, when employees find their work and work relationships meaningful, employment is associated with high levels of daily enjoyment and low levels of all negative daily emotions.”

Mind Your Managers

Surprisingly, managers surveyed for this year’s report were more likely to rate themselves as being engaged (30 percent) and thriving in life (40 percent), with higher pay and higher social status compared to non-manager peers (18 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

Managers “are also more likely to feel their opinions count, to feel connected to their organization, and to have manger peers they can rely on for support,” according to the report. “All these likely contribute to higher engagement and life evaluations for managers.”

On many well-being items, being actively disengaged at work is equivalent to or worse than being unemployed.

And having engaged managers means non-managers are more likely to be engaged at work. Gallup found that 70 percent of the variance in team engagement can be attributed to the team’s manager. This is because effective managers motivate their teams, create goals, and provide regular, meaningful feedback and accountability.

Gallup’s research shows that “a great manager builds on ongoing relationship with an employee grounded in respect, positivity, and an understanding of the employee’s unique gifts. Great managers help employees find meaning and reward in their work. As a result, employees take an interest in what they do, leading to higher productivity and enjoyment.”

This has organizational benefits across the board. Highly engaged business units and teams have fewer negative outcomes, such as 78 percent less absenteeism, 26 percent less shrinkage, 63 percent less safety incidents (accidents), and a 58 percent reduction in patient safety incidents (mortality and falls).

But not everything is rosy for the manager workforce. This group is more likely than non-managers to report being stressed, angry, sad, or lonely. They are also more likely to be looking to leave their current job (56 percent compared to 50 percent of non-managers).

“Because managers often provide emotional support to employees and direct them to mental health resources, any initiative to address employee mental health and well-being should recognize that managers are not immune from suffering—in fact, they may need the most support in some cases,” Gallup assessed.

What Helps Boost Well-Being and Engagement?

Some managers have turned to tools like well-being applications and stress management training to address loneliness, stress, and disengagement, but these solutions are shown to do little—or even cause slight harm.

“Mindfulness and well-being apps aren’t the problem, but when bad management uses them as a fix, it can make things worse,” wrote Gallup CEO Jon Clifton in an introduction of the 2024 report. “It’s understandable when you consider that a major cause of workplace stress is not having the materials and equipment you need to do your job effectively. That problem can’t be solved with a yoga mat; it requires action from management. And the perception that organizations are investing in areas other than what employees need to get the job done can exacerbate stress.”

What employment practices are associated with employees rating their overall quality of life higher? Labor protections such as maternity care, fair wages, social security, employment security, fair treatment, and safety topped the list.

“For example, labor laws aimed at fair wages, safe work, family responsibilities, and maternity are associated with reduced loneliness,” the report explained. “Laws aimed at safe work, family responsibilities, and working hours are associated with less stress.”

When employees have a high rate of daily enjoyment, they are also more likely to be engaged with their work.

“Along with optimism, employee engagement has a positive association with enjoyment,” Gallup said. “This finding suggests that a job—when it is good, meaningful, and interesting—adds something positive to life.”

In the United States, for instance, engaged employees were 64 percent less likely to be lonely than those who were not engaged. Gallup assessed engagement based on 12 factors, finding that employees who said their opinions mattered at work were 39 percent less likely to feel lonely. Employees who said they were allowed to “do what they do best every day are 37 percent less likely to be lonely,” according to a blog post from Ryan Pendell, senior workplace science editor at Gallup.

“Surprisingly, having a best friend at work is among the lowest of the 12 items when it comes to reducing loneliness,” Pendell continued. “Employees who say they have a best friend at work are 21 percent less likely to be lonely. That is still meaningful, but not as significant as engagement overall.”

That problem can’t be solved with a yoga mat; it requires action from management.

Security managers can play a unique role here, creating opportunities for engagement for their teams as well as facilitating a positive workplace culture, wrote Elaine Palome, director of human resources, Americas, for Axis Communications, in an article for Security Management.

“When managers take responsibility to change the conditions that permeate a toxic culture, they are addressing security and safety in the broadest way possible,” Palome explained. “They can make a difference in their company’s success, but more importantly, they can have the fulfilment of working for an organization that values people and their well-being.”

For more tools on building and fostering an engaging and positive workplace culture, check out our series on toxic workplaces.