Loneliness is a growing health epidemic in the country and can cut a person’s life span in a way that’s similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, says Vivek Murthy, M.D., the country's former surgeon general.
And given the fact that people on average spend more waking hours in the workplace than they do at home, that’s one place that physicians can encourage patients to start building social connections, writes Murthy, who served as the country's surgeon general until his dismissal in April, in a piece for Harvard Business Review.
Today, more than 40% of adults in the U.S. report feeling lonely and it can take its toll in many ways, including reducing performance at work and limiting reasoning and decision-making ability.
“For our health and our work, it is imperative that we address the loneliness epidemic quickly,” he says. Building social connections in healthcare workplaces is also a way to counter burnout.
He recommends that organizations:
1. Take stock of their workplace. Ask employees whether they feel their colleagues genuinely value and care for them.
2. Create a workplace that helps build high-quality relationships. Actions, such as generosity, foster relationships, he says.
3. Strengthen social connections and encourage staff to help others and accept help when offered. Design and model a culture that supports social connections.
4. Create opportunities to learn about colleagues’ personal lives. That allows for authentic social connections to develop, he says.