Takeaways From the Surgeon General’s Report on Loneliness: What HR and People Leaders Should Know

Posted in Employee Experience

On Tuesday, May 2, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory about the “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” that is affecting the United States, which lays out a framework for a “National Strategy to Advance Social Connection.”

While much of the report deals with loneliness at home, the report also highlights many risks and opportunities around nurturing connections at work – and across our communities at every level.

As an HR professional or people leader, you may be wondering what exactly is in this comprehensive 82-page report and what you and your organization should be taking away from it.

We can help. Below, we’ve summarized the highlights from the report for people organizations, along with a few pieces of advice we think are worth paying attention to.

Social isolation is nothing new, and while the advisory comes partly in response to the stresses of the recent pandemic – it is also part of the Biden administration’s commitment to addressing mental health in a more thoughtful way.

1. We are in a crisis of connection.

Since 2003 our sense of connection with others has dropped precipitously. Social engagement with friends has declined by 20 hours a month, and social engagement with others has dropped by 10 hours a month. Overall social isolation has increased by a whopping 24 hours a month. This tracks with recent findings in Gallup’s “State of the Global Workforce” report – which finds only 23% of workers thriving. Gallup defines thriving as when “employees find their work meaningful and feel connected to the team and their organization.”

2. Loneliness is everyone’s problem.

As the Surgeon General notes in his introduction, “It will take all of us – individuals and families, schools and workplaces, health care and public health systems, technology companies, governments, faith organizations, and communities – working together to destigmatize loneliness and change our cultural and policy response to it.” While it’s tempting to separate loneliness in the workplace from loneliness at home, the truth is they are inexorably entwined. Strengthening connections and relationships everywhere, says the Surgeon General, is a way to create “healing in plain sight” to counter these profound threats to our health and well-being.

3. A lack of social connection isn’t just a mental health threat.

Health is holistic, and we know that loneliness and isolation have a spill-over impact on every aspect of our well-being. This report notes that social isolation increases the risk of premature death by 29% – as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. It also increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, anxiety, depression, dementia, and susceptibility to viruses or respiratory illness. The report estimates that loneliness costs $6.7 billion in excess Medicare spending annually. That means helping your workforce to build social ties will keep them more healthy – and reduce healthcare expenditures.

4. Social connection is good for business.

“Supportive and inclusive relationships at work are associated with employee job satisfaction, creativity, competence, and better job performance,” observes the report. The Surgeon General stresses that to prevent chronic work stress and workplace burnout, people must have access to “quality social support, social integration, and regular communication among co-workers of all levels” – something that can result in individual innovation, engagement, individual career advancements, income, and overall economic stability.

5. Connecting workers helps to strengthen the communities in which we work.

Connectedness may be a critical contributor to your ESG efforts, according to the findings in this report. Connections increase our resilience as a society, increase empathy and trust, improve safety, increase prosperity, and lead to better public health outcomes.

As part of the National Strategy to Advance Human Connection, the Surgeon General has issued a series of recommendations for companies. We will share those six recommendations here unredacted because we think they are excellent.

  • Make social connection a strategic priority in the workplace at all levels (administration, management, and employees).
  • Train, resource, and empower leaders and managers to promote connection in the workplace and implement programs that foster connection. Assess program effectiveness, identify barriers to success, and facilitate continuous quality improvement.
  • Leverage existing leadership and employee training, orientation, and wellness resources to educate the workforce about the importance of social connection for workplace well-being, health, productivity, performance, retention, and other markers of success.
  • Create practices and a workplace culture that allow people to connect to one another as whole people, not just as skill sets, and that fosters inclusion and belonging.
  • Put in place policies that protect workers’ ability to nurture their relationships outside work, including respecting boundaries between work and non-work time, supporting caregiving responsibilities, and creating a culture of norms and practices that support these policies.
  • Consider the opportunities and challenges posed by flexible work hours and arrangements (including remote, hybrid, and in-person work), which may impact workers’ abilities to connect with others both within and outside of work. Evaluate how these policies can be applied equitably across the workforce.

If any of that sounds familiar, it’s probably because these are the core of our mission at Enboarder®! We are excited to see more people understand how increasing human connection can help to build a happier, more engaged, more productive, and more resilient workforce and society.

Enboarder offers you the infrastructure to elevate and increase human connection across your workforce, so that your company can contribute not only to this national movement – but also to strengthening the well-being of your employees and your organization.

Reach out today to schedule a demo of the Human Connection Platform® to see how you can help to build more social connections and decrease loneliness for your workers.

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