May 26, 2024

Loneliness in the UK: Aon’s call to employers on International Day of Friendship

A new employer guide from Aon plc (NYSE: AON), a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, has been released to coincide with the United Nation’s International Day of Friendship (30 July). The guide, Loneliness: How employers can help, helps raise awareness of the growing social challenge which costs UK employers(1) £2.5bn annually. The guide also provides practical advice for employers to help build connections among their people to reduce associated problems.

Charles Alberts, head of health management at Aon, said:

“Even before the upheavals of the past few months where many people have been in lockdown, working from home and unable to visit those they feel closest to, the way we live and work has been changing quickly. We face multiple pressures from increasing workloads, to caring responsibilities and a range of other demands on our time which increases stress and impacts our work-life balance.

“The UN’s International Day of Friendship is all about accumulating bonds of camaraderie and developing strong ties of trust to contribute to fundamental shifts to achieve stability. Increasingly, I believe this is a topic employers can engage in and there are practical steps they can make to support connections for their people, which in turn support fundamental organisational goals.”

Impact of loneliness on employees and business

Aon’s report cites research from EY which found that 40% of employees stated they felt isolated in their role2 which significantly impacts individuals and the business. Lonelier workers have lower job satisfaction, change jobs more frequently, have fewer promotions, and have a higher likelihood of leaving their current job within the next six months3. There is also a link between loneliness and poor performance, impaired creativity, lower productivity levels and poor decision making4. Further research shows that lonely employees are seen as less approachable, which in turn has an impact on collaborative working5.

Studies have also shown that loneliness can increase the risk of developing serious health issues. It has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, depression, cognitive decline and dementia6. On top of this, a study into how COVID-19 has affected anxiety has shown that those who report they ‘always’ or ‘often’ feel lonely were almost five times more likely to have higher levels of anxiety than those who ‘never’ feel lonely; the impact of loneliness is a tangible one4.

As a result, ill health typically leads to an increase in absenteeism and presenteeism – which have a clear economic impact (combined, they cost the UK economy £81 billion each year5).

Loneliness triggers and practical steps for employers

Aon’s Loneliness: How employers can help’ guide shows that the issue can impact anyone, although employers are advised of key triggers6, perhaps moving home or job, experiencing discrimination or bereavement, being a victim of crime, renting a home, going through a divorce or relationship breakdown, children leaving home or retirement.

The guide provides 15 tips helping employers create collaboration and openness between their people, while combatting loneliness. Actions include encouraging teamwork between siloed divisions, developing mentor schemes, ensuring new hires are integrated socially, encouraging employees to broaden their work network and offering training on issues that improve relationships, perhaps conflict resolution and emotional intelligence.

Alberts summarised:

“While technology allows us to work, live and socialise more flexibly, it limits our opportunities for “real” human interaction.

“We may be technologically connected, but we are sleepwalking into becoming the least humanly connected society ever. Employers can take positive actions to help their people, while supporting their organisational needs. Loneliness can come in so many shapes and forms, and this will resonate with many, especially now. It’s never been so important for employers to look at ways they can help.”

Access the full guide here