Loneliness is costing UK employers £2.5bn a year

Loneliness can affect business performance. New research from the New Economics Foundation found that loneliness costs businesses £2.5bn a year through the harm it does to workers or the people...

Loneliness can affect business performance. New research from the New Economics Foundation found that loneliness costs businesses £2.5bn a year through the harm it does to workers or the people they care for.

The study, which looks at factors such as sick leave and staff turnover was commissioned by the Co-op Group, which is a member of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness.

The commission was launched earlier this year in honour of the late Labour MP Jo Cox, who was in the process of setting it up when she was murdered last June.

It also found that days lost from workers who were looking after someone with a health condition attributed to loneliness – such as depression or heart disease – cost £220m.

Jo Cox was working on the commission at the time of her death

And lost working days from those experiencing loneliness themselves amounted to £20m.

The cost to business in lost productivity through poor employee wellbeing was £665 million.

And when poor employee wellbeing through loneliness led to staff turnover, the cost was £1.62bn, it added.

With 30 million people employed in the UK, that translates into at least £82 per year per employee, the report said.

The study focused on direct costs to employers, without including the increased cost to the NHS of treating ill-health that is attributable to loneliness.

This may need to be funded by increased taxes across the board, resulting in higher corporation tax.

Loneliness tends to be neglected in the workplace, say the researchers, and employers should use reactive and preventive approaches to tackle the problem among their workers.

The Group has been working with the British Red Cross since 2015 on a campaign to tackle loneliness and has raised over £4m through fundraising activities.

Related: Co-op Group launches loneliness survey

It is also working to address the problem through its businesses by taking more 400 apprentices aged over 50, to help them stay in work past retirement age and maintain their social connection.

In addition, the retailer is re-launching its Employee Assistance Programme, which offers confidential, informal support for colleagues facing loneliness, as well as support for psychological and trauma-related issues.

For colleagues who are carers for close friends or family members, the Group has a dedicated policy that allows them to take time off, have access to a phone at work, or get help with carers’ assessments.

In another initiative, the Group has signed the TUC’s Dying to Work Charter, which commits firms to continue employing colleagues diagnosed as terminally ill, if this is what they want.

Rufus Olins, chief membership officer of the Group, said: “For the first time this report puts a figure on the cost on loneliness to business. It is clear that employers should not only be aware of the issue but should also be prepared to support employees.

“We already know from research we published last year that ordinary events in life have the potential to disrupt our social connections and can lead to individuals becoming lonely even though they may be surrounded by others.

“This rich insight clearly shows there is a role for businesses and that is why we are beginning to develop support for colleagues who are lonely and will be sharing our learnings with others.

“By implementing well thought-out strategies, employers can not only support individual colleagues but also make a positive impact on their bottom line.”

Rachel Reeves MP and Seema Kennedy MP, who co- chair the Jo Cox Commission, said: “Many people wrongly believe that those in work must have social connections and so therefore cannot possibly be lonely. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

“This reports clearly shows that loneliness not only affects individual workers but has a direct impact on profitability. The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness will be asking business and employers to consider adopting policies and best practice designed to support those who are impacted by loneliness in the workplace.”

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