TheLi.st Survey: Women and Work Loneliness Crisis

We spend significantly less time connecting with others than we did decades ago, and it’s deeply felt in schools, homes, and workplaces. Overall, about one-quarter of the world feels lonely.

While every demographic feels the effects, a new survey of over 2,000 white-collar workers found that an overwhelming majority of women—80%—have felt lonely because of their jobs. According to the survey, 41% of women say work is the loneliest time of day. TheLi.st, a membership community supporting women and nonbinary leaders in their careers, conducted the survey in partnership with Berlin Cameron and Benenson Strategy Group.

“It’s a crisis in the workplace,” Ann Shocket, CEO of TheLi.st, tells Fortune, who says she mistook her own loneliness for overwhelm and stress. “It makes employees more likely to be unhappy and discouraged about their opportunities.”

Inequity and loneliness

Feeling lonely at work makes employees—no matter their gender—four times more likely to feel dissatisfied with their careers, which can inevitably lead to a lack of productivity and higher turnover. However, the report also underpins how loneliness may only increase existing inequities in the office.

The platform’s 2023 report found women are significantly more likely to feel lonely as they climb the ranks at work than men. Nearly six in 10 early and mid-career women said their loneliness grew as they climbed the corporate ladder. Over half of early and mid-career women said they’ve turned down promotions, new jobs, or quit because of the negative impact loneliness at work has on their personal lives.

“Loneliness is preventing women from moving into positions of great influence and power,” the report reads. Moreover, loneliness at work has a more significant adverse effect on people of color compared to white employees, illustrated by more feelings of distrust in leaders and colleagues and an inability to be themselves, the report finds.

The 10-min trick

Addressing loneliness at work can have long-lasting effects, from improving equity, well-being, and happiness at work to helping stave off the health complications of social isolation, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, and dementia.

“We expect our jobs to do more for us than just give us a paycheck,” Shocket says. “We want to be invested in our jobs, in our workplaces, and in our careers, and we want to feel seen and supported in return.”

Research from the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community last year found if we all connected intentionally for 10 minutes a day, we could reduce the decline in social connection by 50%. This is especially timely to address in the workplace as employees spend most of their days at their jobs.

Lucky for us, everyone can spend 10 minutes connecting, Shocket underscores, whose team has a guide for achieving it. Consider asking your office role model for coffee, stopping to congratulate a colleague about a project you loved, or telling a team member you were thinking of them and want to check in about their recent trip or birthday.

“It’s not showing up at the networking parties and swirling warm Chardonnay. It’s not big, fancy, expensive conferences,” Shocket says. “These tiny daily habits of staying in touch by text, spending time one-on-one, and literally walking around the office are a really valuable way to nurture your connections.”

Small but meaningful habits like offering to collaborate on projects, supporting colleagues on workplace challenges, and staying in touch about people’s lives can help you clock in those 10 minutes. While it can be nerve-wracking to introduce yourself to someone new or send a cold Slack message, we tend to underestimate how well reaching out feels and is received.

Some people are already onto something. One in three employees feel less lonely because they constantly cultivate connection, the report finds. These community cultivators, as the report calls them, value collaboration, networking across teams, and checking in with colleagues. Becoming one or surrounding yourself with one can help you feel more connected.

“Think of someone as not just a tool in your kit,” Shocket says. “See the humanity. Think of their skills. Think of them on a personal level. Reach out to them.”

Still, people yearn for systematic solutions from the top. The report found that 65% of employees think employers are responsible for addressing loneliness in the workplace.

Three ways employers can counter the effects of loneliness, according to the report:

  • Train managers to lead with empathy
  • Cultivate collaborative and supportive environments
  • Create opportunities for formal mentor-mentee relationships

For more on combating loneliness:

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