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The Next Pandemic: Loneliness and the Power of Casual Collisions

Cover image of the Loneliness and the Power of Casual Collisions research report.

The sudden explosion of COVID-19 in early 2020 turned life upside down almost overnight. Lockdowns induced forced isolation, and employees transformed into either remote workers or essential, front-line workers at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus. As offices have reopened, remote work has been heralded as one positive outcome of the pandemic and as a solution to some of the ailments of Americans’ fast-paced lifestyles. While technologies such as videoconferencing and instant messaging have supported productivity, the reduction in unscheduled social interactions has the potential to harm employee well-being and engagement. 

While remote work can improve job satisfaction, it can also contribute to feelings of isolation, which in turn can lead to more serious conditions. Employees who are chronically lonely in the workplace receive poorer supervisor ratings of their job performance and have weaker feelings of emotional commitment to their employer. Ironically, although these employees crave social interaction, they also tend to distance themselves from co-workers, potentially undercutting workgroup collaboration. In addition, they miss an average of 15 more days of work per year than their nonlonely co-workers. Given these potential implications for the workplace, SHRM Research sought to explore the prevalence of employee loneliness and the importance of social interactions from the perspectives of both HR professionals and U.S. workers.