HRE soundbite: Loneliness is ‘as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day’

As COVID-19 prompts social distancing and remote work, it also exacerbates a problem that was already worsening for workers: loneliness.

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According to recent Cigna research–which surveyed 10,000 employees pre-COVID–61% of employees say they’re lonely, 58% say they feel like no one knows them well and 24% say their mental health is fair or poor. That percentage increased from the 46% of workers who said they were lonely in 2018.

Related: Is COVID-19 a turning point for workplace mental health?

Now, Cigna researchers predict those figures will jump due to the pandemic, as employees continue to distance from family, friends and co-workers and deal with a number of new challenges.

And feelings of loneliness will have a big impact on both employees and employers, Dr. Stuart Lustig, the national medical executive for behavioral health at Cigna, said last week during a webinar.

“Loneliness is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” he says. When employees are lonely and stressed emotionally, “our bodies demonstrate that and manifest the signs of stress. Body and mind are intrepidly linked.”

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In addition to taking a toll on physical and mental health, loneliness also impacts companies in a big way: Lonely workers report they deliver lower-quality work, are more likely to miss a day of work, are less productive and don’t find work meaningful or fulfilling, among other issues, Cigna reports. That translates to a significant amount of money lost, too.

Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at