Feeling lonely at work can take years off your life

CINCINNATI -- In some ways, American adults in 2017 are more connected than they have ever been. The proliferation of smartphones means many of us live with 24/7 access to social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, allowing us to stay updated on our friends' and family members' lives every hour of the day.

However, according to a study performed by the AARP, that virtual connection doesn't tend to translate to emotional fulfillment. Over 40 percent of adults in the United States report feeling lonely and isolated; few have a close confidante in their lives; and many feel alienated in their workplaces. 

"Loneliness is very big these days," Shantel Thomas, a clinical counselor, said. "We're having a lot of people that are coming in and talking about not having friends or not getting along with people at work or just being alone at home and feeling very sad and depressed about that."

The effects of this depression cut into workers' productivity and can even shorten their lifespans, according to the medical journal PLOS Medicine. Chronic stress can have similar health effects to long-term smoking.

No individual person or entity can cure what the Harvard Business Review called "an epidemic of loneliness," but media marketing agency Empower Media hopes to provide a more connected, social workplace experience to its 160 Cincinnati employees through an open office design.

No one at Empower has a closed office, chief creative officer Jeff Warman said. Instead, the building is set up with collaborative spaces that mimic living rooms and lounges, providing a more social atmosphere. There is also a kitchen on every level where workers can meet while they eat meals as well as 36 separate conference rooms, which can be used for meetings or help workers who need quiet, solo space find it.

"We're extremely excited to be part of this neighborhood, to be part of this community, to have employees feel energized in this new space," CEO Jim Price said. "It's all about collaboration and bringing us back together and having a great time while we're working."

If you feel lonely in your own workplace, Thomas had a few pieces of advice.

  • Take the first step. Your coworker might feel just as isolated as you do, but assume -- like you might assume of them -- that they are the only one who is unhappy.
  • Present yourself as open and friendly. “Make good eye contract, smile, and say ‘Hello, good morning,” to at least five people every day,” Thomas advised.
  • Seek professional help if your loneliness or depression are long-term. In addition to seeking out a psychologist or psychiatrist, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 for free at any time of day. The National Association on Mental Illness Southwest Ohio has compiled a list of other sources of immediate help, both local and national.
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