17 Ways Company Leaders Can Combat The ‘Loneliness Epidemic’


Recently, there have been many media stories about a global “loneliness epidemic.”

Forbes Expert Panel · Sep 29, 2023

Recently, there have been many media stories about a global “loneliness epidemic.” After months of social distancing and isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have described feeling a pervasive and unshakeable sense of isolation and disconnectedness. And while many workers appreciate the flexibility of remote work, it further limits the social interactions most of us used to have every day.

There are ways company leaders can help to ease these feelings of loneliness among their staff, and such efforts not only benefit individual team members, but can also contribute to building a stronger company culture. Below, 17 Forbes Coaches Council members share concrete steps company leaders can take to support their teams in these challenging times and explore the far-reaching benefits of actively addressing the loneliness epidemic.

1. Demonstrate Vulnerability

Loneliness at work is destroying workplace culture. We are hardwired for connection. Leaders need first to build psychological safety and create a sense of belonging. Vulnerability cannot be a taboo—this is not the 1980s, and it is an essential leadership attribute. The leaders who demonstrate their own vulnerability will create a climate that encourages others to do the same. - Gavin Sharpe, Gavin Sharpe

2. Integrate Team-Building Activities

Loneliness negatively impacts productivity and teamwork. Leaders can create a positive work vibe by organizing integration activities that help team members get to know each other better. Another option is to implement a mandatory “5-minute icebreaker” before starting a meeting so that the team can have some personal interaction. - Paula Vidal CastelliPaula Vidal Castelli Intl., LLC

3. Ensure A Balanced Employee Life

Leaders can foster belonging and inclusivity through communication, collaboration and team-building activities; regular check-ins with their employees to listen to their concerns and successes; organizing social events or video calls to build community; and providing mental health support. A balanced employee life contributes to greater work engagement and productivity. - Inely Cesna, Institute For Next Level Leadership

4. Foster Social Team Gatherings And Well-Being Checks

Humans are social beings who thrive on the energy of others in different ways. Aim to reduce distance through meaningful attempts to foster social team gatherings, and reach out to individuals so they feel acknowledged and noticed. Schedule well-being checks for your teams to build morale and a sense of self and purpose. Engaged employees are productive. - Arthi Rabikrisson, Prerna Advisory

5. Promote Open Communication And Team Building

In times of loneliness, leaders must foster a sense of connection and belonging. By promoting open communication and virtual team-building activities and facilitating genuine human connections, leaders can help alleviate the loneliness epidemic within their teams. Remember, a connected and supported workforce is a productive and resilient one. - Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.DHuman Capital Innovations, LLC

6. Encourage Employees To Create Connections Outside Of Work

Work is not the only place where connections are created. Encourage employees to reconnect with their social life, family, friends, hobbies and community work. Avoid overtime and overwork. Encourage team members to share their hobbies and out-of-work interests and to engage in more activities (maybe you could pay for some subscriptions or memberships) so they also spend time outside their work circles. - Isabelle Claus Teixeira, Business and Human Development Consulting Pte Ltd

7. Set Up ERGs Or Hobby Groups

Isolation happens when people don’t feel understood or listened to. Company leaders can emphasize creating engagement around connections. This is a great time to invite social connections within the business setting. Create employee resource groups or hobby groups, and instill some fun. - Susan Jordan, MBA, MSODL, PCC, Sphereshift Coaching and Consulting

8. Establish Norms, Routines And Traditions

Establishing team norms, routines and traditions will create a solid culture by connecting team members and creating a community. It’s important to do this to prevent loneliness or silos within a department. Teams will experience a higher level of engagement when they feel bonded with their team, which in turn has a positive impact on employee retention rates. - Lindsay Miller, Reverie Organizational Development Specialists

9. Create Opportunities For Team Members To Regularly Interact

Relationships start with opportunities to see and become familiar with each other. Whether it’s through an open floor plan or a well-stocked kitchen, find ways for teams to repeatedly interact and share experiences. As noted in Shasta Nelson’s book, The Business of Friendship, businesses should care, because making social connections with co-workers not only reduces loneliness, but is also a strong predictor of job satisfaction. - Kathleen Shanley, Statice

10. Teach Managers How To Create Connections

Post-pandemic, workers’ priorities have shifted in terms of what they want from work: A sense of belonging is now at the top of the list. The good news is that decades of research show that creating social ties in the workplace impacts the bottom line by combating burnout and turnover while boosting engagement and performance. Managers have the largest impact on the employee experience—give them skills to be conduits of connection! - Jamie Lewis Smith, Pixel Leadership Group, LLC

11. Be Present And Supportive During One-On-Ones

As a leader, start with what matters most. Reach out to your team to check in one-on-one, and be intentional about how you “show up.” In these meetings, ask how things are going personally and professionally and what you can do to provide support. Be fully present so that you notice body language, tone and words. Establish a cadence of individual meetings and some fun ways to connect the team. - Neena Newberry, Newberry Solutions

12. Take A Holistic Approach

Company leaders who are people-centered and role models should care! There are several areas that contribute to one’s wellness, so a holistic approach would benefit the employee and the organization as a whole. Allow employees time to bond, mingle and celebrate life within the workspace. Encourage employees to laugh more in the workspace. Plan and execute fun bonding activities for the staff. - Kurline J AltesKURLINEJSPEAKS LLC

13. Encourage Communication And Recognize Employee Contributions

Employees need to feel valued, connected and supported to perform well. Company leaders should encourage various communication channels, both digital and in person, to make it easy for employees to connect, share ideas and collaborate. Moreover, recognize and appreciate employees’ contributions and provide regular, positive feedback to help them feel valued and connected to the team. - Moza-Bella Tram, Moza-Bella LLC

14. Allow Space For Non-Work-Related Conversations

Thousands of years ago, if our personality, traits and skills were not valued by the community, it could mean being kicked out, and that would mean death. We need to know we belong. Leaders need to be intentional and ensure they have non-work conversations with everyone on a regular basis. Show your appreciation for each team member, let them know why they belong with the company, and allow them space to ask questions. - Alex Draper, DX Learning Solutions

15. Focus On People, Not Just Goals

Too often, leaders think they know their people, so they focus on tasks to accomplish goals. If leaders focus solely on tasks and let people take care of themselves, then tasks will get done in silos, but leaders will often fail to accomplish their larger objectives. However, leaders who focus on people and create strong teams are able to both achieve their desired results and have engaged employees. - Robin Pou, The Confident Leader

16. Hold A Quarterly Motivational, Development And Planning Event

Even if your company has ditched the physical office altogether, once a quarter, bring everyone together for a two-day, face-to-face, motivational, development and planning event. Dedicate the first day to motivation and development and the second day to planning. The night before the event, have a happy hour, and host a dinner at the end of the first full day. - John Knotts, Crosscutter Enterprises

17. Avoid Setting Up Unwelcoming Boundaries

Some leaders don’t want to ask people about their personal lives, because “it’s not about work.” I can’t imagine not wanting to talk with my employees, when they want to, about hobbies, holidays or the serious issues they’re facing. It’s something I want to share with them too. This isn’t about boundaries and proximity; it’s about making people feel like staying with your company because they feel they belong and are well-supported. - Dominik Szot, MIA