October 11, 2017
Former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says America is in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. He contends that loneliness has a bigger impact on our nation’s health than smoking, violence, or obesity, and employers should develop ways to foster more meaningful working relationships since people often spend more time with colleagues than family.
Loneliness is the subject of Murthy’s article in the September 2017 issue of The Harvard Business Review. He points out that roughly 40% of American adults say they feel lonely. More alarmingly, the number of people who say they have no close confidant in their lives continues to increase.
According to Murthy, loneliness is associated with shorter lifespan—similar to that associated with smoking and greater than the impact of obesity. He says there’s also a link between loneliness and cardiovascular disease, dementia, anxiety and depression.
Murthy says he witnessed the loneliness epidemic while practicing medicine and serving as surgeon general. Loneliness was “the greatest pathology” he saw, although people often use different words to describe their feelings. It impacted his patients’ ability to “live healthy and fulfilling lives.”
“Even people who weren’t struggling with illness often felt that they were on their own,” Murthy says. “And this is quite striking despite the boom that we’ve had in technology, especially social technology.”
According to Murthy, “we need to look at where people spend the bulk of their time.” He adds, “Many spend many more than eight hours a day at work. And for this reason, the impact that the workplace has on our social connections becomes very, very important.”
Many companies are using their real estate to foster relationships at work, designing collaboration spaces and open workspaces.
For questions, comments or concerns, please contact Jennifer Duell Popovec