Are your employees lonely? Here’s what that could cost you

are your employees lonely

Are your employees lonely? Loneliness has a detrimental impact on the people who experience it and can have unfortunate consequences for the companies that employ them. 

In his Talent Talk at ISPA 2023, Smiley Poswolsky made the case for employee belonging. 

70% of Americans are disengaged with their jobs today, he said, some so disengaged that they actively work against their company. “We are in the middle of a loneliness epidemic. Fifty percent of Americans are lonely,” he said, adding that, “It takes 90 hours with someone to build a friendship. It takes 200 hours WITH that person to become a close friend.”

Why does this matter to hospitality, hotels, and spas? “The business costs of loneliness are enormous,” Poswolsky said.

The high cost of loneliness

While loneliness has a detrimental impact on the people who experience it, of course, it can indeed have unfortunate consequences for the companies that employ them. 

The health insurance company Cigna has been collecting and analyzing data on loneliness in the workplace and found that lonely workers had significantly higher rates of stress-related absenteeism, missing more than five additional work days per year than workers who are not lonely. They were also twice as likely to report intending to quit their jobs in the next twelve months, according to Marketplace

Marketplace quotes Anne Bowers, a senior health-services researcher with Cigna, as saying that loneliness costs employers approximately $154 billion annually, substantially contributes to worker job-withdrawal and has negative implications for organizational effectiveness.

Less commitment and weaker job performance

According to research, lonely workers  demonstrate less commitment and weaker job performance.

One study, for example, looked at 672 employees and 114 supervisors in more than 100 different jobs across two organizations. The researchers found that, even when controlling for other factors, like family, romantic, or social loneliness, loneliness made people less effective at work. “The lonelier employees were, the lower the performance ratings they received from their supervisor.”  

The study authors found two mechanisms at work. One was that the lonely people felt alienated by their organization and, as a result, were less committed to their organization and didn’t work as hard as they could. The other was related to co-worker perception; colleagues viewed the lonely employees as distant and less approachable, so they had less contact with other employees and were often “left out of the loop” of business operations.

“Many studies have shown,” one of the study authors explains in this article, “that a lot of what’s important to know at work gets communicated via personal relationships and informal settings rather than scheduled meetings and emails.”

Separate research has found that lonely people also take twice as many sick days as less lonely people.

Loneliness on the rise

Workplace loneliness is thought to be on the rise. This is partly true because the pandemic sent so many people back home to work alone. But it’s also true because workplaces can be fractured communities and people simply aren’t making the connections they need to feel good while at their jobs, which is too bad – Gallup data shows that people having best friends at work is strongly linked to positive business outcomes, including improvements in profitability, safety, inventory control, and employee retention. And it’s been found (probably not surprisingly to many) that women are lonelier at work than men, and that the higher they climb the ladder the lonelier they are.  

Loneliness can be especially detrimental in hospitality, where we need employees in guest-facing positions to be fully engaged in their roles. A checked-out employee is not going to provide the guest service and customer experience we need them to.

Research conducted among 300 employees at hotels in Singapore found that loneliness contributed to emotional exhaustion and an increased desire to psychologically detach from their jobs.  

The study offers theoretical and practical implications for dealing with workplace loneliness. It emphasizes the necessity of providing opportunities for employees to disconnect from work psychologically and promoting a work atmosphere that is conducive to relationships and companionship. Moreover, the study underscores the importance of acknowledging and addressing loneliness as an important risk factor in the workplace.

We already know that hospitality employees feel undervalued compared to other industries. We should hope they don’t feel lonely too.

Are your employees lonely? How to tell if someone is feeling lonely or isolated at work.

How can you tell if your employee is lonely? Some things to watch for.

They’re alone. Let’s start with the super obvious: is there someone at work who doesn’t appear to get invited along for lunches or be included in the conversation? Maybe someone you just assume is standoffish and not terribly social? Just because someone isn’t extroverted about wanting to belong doesn’t mean they don’t want to belong. They may come across as aloof and disinterested in others. Lonely people sometimes disconnect from others because they’re afraid of rejection. They stop trying to contribute to the conversation. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to connect. It means they tried already and it didn’t work, or they simply don’t know how.

They seem disengaged. As we stated, lonely employees are less engaged in their jobs and their performance may show it. We often start a job with big enthusiasm and high hopes, only to fall into a routine and discover the social environment to be lacklustre, which impacts motivation. Feeling like you’re an important part of something is a big motivator to do a good job. Conversely, feeling unimportant will have the opposite effect. A disengaged employee may show up late, leave early, not speak up in meetings and simply seem to not care about work.

They appear to be stressed. Visible signs of stress can include irritability, defensiveness, appearing tired, and falling performance. Loneliness might not be the root cause of these issues but it can exacerbate them. Sharing our stresses with others provides a sounding board for what’s bothering us and also helps us problem solve. If we don’t have people to talk to at work, those stresses can build up and it can show. Moreover, when we lack good communication, we leave the door open to misinterpretation and this can lead to imagined slights and bad relationships, which in turn contribute to workplace stress.

What can you do to ease loneliness in the workplace? 

While workplace loneliness might be an inevitable and natural emotion that employees can experience, its effective management can significantly impact the quality of life for employees and the overall success of your hotel, resort, or spa.

Some suggestions for helping people build connections at work and avoiding workplace loneliness:

Create communal areas. Break rooms should be bright, relaxing, and inviting places where team members want to hang out together. There should be comfortable chairs and delicious drinks over which they can catch up, get to know each other, and share stories about their lives and the day. 

Start the conversation and make sure people are included. Introduce new employees to the team and highlight interest points that prompt questions or further conversation, like where they worked previously or something they have in common with their peers and can immediately discuss. “This is Noor. She just moved here from Texas and she’s big into hot-cold therapy and ice baths/K-Pop/football. You should get along great!” If you use digital communications with the team about work, be sure to make small talk about other things as well and make everyone feel included. 

Hold gatherings. Hold regular, casual get-togethers in the break room for group coffees, go out to lunch together, order food for the team once a week and be together. Be present in these situations so you can facilitate including someone if you notice they’re being left out. Ask people questions about themselves and their lives to get them talking with you and each other, just like you would in any social situation.

Encourage bonding over goals and values. Sharing your business goals and values with everyone ensures they are aligned and working together towards a shared goal, which creates community and a sense of belonging. Encourage people to work together towards this shared vision.

Create a loose buddy system. Rather than saddling your existing employees with the added responsibility of a “mentor” role, which might not interest them, assign someone, or different people to take turns, to show a new hire the ropes and walk them through their first few days. You can also tag team cleaning jobs, merchandising, and other tasks like coming up with ideas for promotions. Get people working together. 

Give time to recharge. Your people also need time off to detach and to focus on life and relationships outside of work. The authors of the Singapore study suggest that “psychologically detaching from work is important when employees experience workplace loneliness [ … ] Workplace loneliness, which encompasses negative mental health-related outcomes, can be addressed through psychological detachment, which leads to positive outcomes at work.” They state that psychological detachment can decrease exhaustion and increase positivity. Managers, they write, should play an assertive role in ensuring their staff have acceptable opportunities for psychological disconnection from work.

It’s leadership’s job to create a welcoming workplace and promote a sense of belonging by modeling and encouraging inclusivity.


Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at

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