Workplace burnout is a real phenomenon. It’s not in your head or just something your co-worker needs a quick power nap to get over. More people are feeling tired and lonely while engaging in their work. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently took a deeper look at this trend and issued their results on how to help yourself and your employees from falling victim to loneliness.

Compared with roughly 20 years ago, the HBR reports that people are twice as likely to report that they are always exhausted. That is a 32% increase from two decades ago. What’s more significant, is there is a direct correlation between feeling lonely and work exhaustion: the more someone identifies as exhausted, the lonelier they feel.

The stakes for companies are high when it comes to this loneliness and burnout. The Congressional Budget Office estimate is that employee burnout costs employers in the U.S.

$125 billion dollars each year. This isn’t just a problem for busy, overworked executives. The HBR work suggests that the problem is pervasive across professions and corporate hierarchies with serious consequences.

What are the health effects on employees?

Loneliness is not just a result of social isolation, but can also be caused by the emotional exhaustion of workplace burnout. Loneliness is an emotionally painful feeling; it registers as physical pain in the brain. Obesity reduces longevity by 20%, drinking by 30%, and smoking by 50%, but loneliness reduces it by a whopping 70%. Studies suggest that loneliness increases your chance of stroke or coronary heart disease by 30%. On the other hand, feelings of social connection can strengthen immune systems and lengthen lives with lower rates of depression.

What are the workplace repercussions?

The repercussions of this discomfort directly impact work productivity because people disengage. The Gallup Organization showed the extreme costs to companies of disengagement: 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, 16% lower profitability, and most surprising – 65% lower share price over time.

So what can leaders and employees do?

Promote a culture of inclusion and empathy. The HBR research demonstrated the link between social support at work, lower rates of burnout, and greater work productivity. Their research found the most important factor in work happiness is positive social relationships with coworkers. Workplace engagement is associated with positive social relations that involve feeling valued, supported, respected, and secure. This result of greater psychological well-being, translates into higher productivity and performance.

Encourage employees throughout your organization to:

  • Build Developmental Networks – These networks are small groups of colleagues you routinely turn to for task advice or emotional support. At the vast majority of companies, creation of these networks is left up to chance. However, companies can help foster them by assigning onboarding partners and helping employees access and connect with potential mentors, coaches, and peers.
  • Remove Barriers to Connection – Free space in shared calendars and offer co-worker contact information with relevant background information (including hobbies and interests, not just work), can go a long way to group bonding.
  • Celebrate Collective Successes – The happiness arising from a single happy hour is short-lived. But celebrating collective successes helps create a sense of belonging and attachment in organizations. These kinds of rituals build solidarity, increase a sense of belonging, and can help guard against burnout.