Loneliness is bad for our health. The stress hormones released when we feel lonely can erode arteries, raise blood pressure and cause memory problems. Loneliness is also a contributing factor in both depression and alcoholism. A recent study even showed that rats suffering from social isolation were 3.3 times more likely to get breast cancer.
To compound these effects, studies have shown that we are more likely to suffer from loneliness if somebody in our social network is suffering. The connection does not even have to be direct. If an immediate friend is lonely, you are 52% more likely to also feel loneliness and if a friend of a friend is lonely, you are 25% more likely to suffer the same fate. While this may seem counterintuitive, loneliness is based on perceived social isolation, not the reality of how many friends somebody has. Many people perceive that they are alone, even when surrounded by friends and family. The paper cited in the article above states that the answer to this problem lies in focusing on people at the peripheries of social networks.
Workplaces are fantastic examples of social networks. While everybody is theoretically on the same team, there tends to be a discrepancy between the core group and the periphery. Workplaces are not unlike high schools when it comes to the in-crowd and the outsiders. Sometimes the in-crowd socializes outside of work without the outsiders, sometimes in-crowd meets for lunch without extending the invitation to a wider group, and sometimes in-crowd simply engages in more conversations by the water cooler, giving others in the office a fuller picture of who really matters. Outsiders only need to be mildly perceptive to figure out that they are being marginalized. At times, it seems that the in-crowd is devoting effort to sending that message.
So how can we decrease the isolation of the periphery at work? One of the most basic ways to combat loneliness is simply to share the amount of interaction coworkers have with each other over the course of the day. One way to accomplish this is by instituting a program like CREW which mandates interaction between employees that reaches beyond set social circles. Making connections with coworkers increase feelings of belonging and can therefore decrease feelings of loneliness on the fringes of the group which will help the physical and mental health of the whole community.