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.

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.”

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.

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