Combating Loneliness is Everyone’s Business

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Loneliness, by its very definition is an individual experience. It’s also having a significant impact on society, and a challenge that will take an entire “new village” to solve.

According to research from Campaign to End Loneliness, 9 in 10 people believe loneliness in older age is more likely now than ever. However, 67 percent of people – increasing to 76 percent of those aged 16-24 – say they want to help address this rising crisis.

The Campaign, a coalition of national, regional and local organizations, is driving public awareness and action to create a more compassionate society that can offer effective interventions and ultimately prevent loneliness.

Photo of Nic Palmarini at Kindness Can Conference

Nic Palmarini, an author of the IBM IBV study, “Loneliness and the aging population – how businesses and governments can address a looming crisis” recently presented at the Campaign’s Kindness Can: A Positive Future for Loneliness conference, and spoke with attendees on why companies should get involved, and how it could be good for business.

Below are notes from the event:

Over 1 million older adults in the UK are chronically lonely at a cost of £6K per person.

According a new study commissioned from the LSE, loneliness has a significant impact on societal health costs, which can include doctors’ visits, trips to the emergency room, prescriptions, and more. However, the same study has shown that £1 invested in effective loneliness intervention could mitigate at least £2-£3 of health costs.

However, in order to treat the issue, we first have to find those older adults experiencing loneliness.

Many cultures place a high value on independence and stoicism and there can be a real stigma to admitting to loneliness and an unwillingness to seek help. The Missing Million report outlines innovative ways to combine and analyze data sources to identify those at risk, together with guidance on how to facilitate an open and empathetic conversation about loneliness.

“Every person comes to loneliness in their own way, so there needs to be more than one path out.”

According to Dr. Kellie Payne, a “one-size-fits-all, we’ll go to lunch club, and that’s going to solve your loneliness” approach is doomed to fail. Interventions need to be centered on individual interests and communities.

She points to the success of the Men’s Sheds in the UK and Australia, a community-based program where men can share tools and resources to work on projects of their own choosing. While conversation isn’t the main objective, most men who participate get value from both the activities and the social interaction that takes place.

Loneliness is not just an individual issue – it affects the communities and customers that businesses serve and costs employers £2.5bn a year.

The Co-op, a UK based consumer firm, recently sponsored research quantifying the cost of loneliness on business. The study showed that the effect of loneliness on employee health and well-being can result in higher illness and absenteeism, loss of productivity, and increased staff turnover, all negatively impacting the company bottom line.

The potential cost to UK employers – up to £2.5bn per year – suggest that it’s just good business practice to tackle loneliness and help better support the needs of employees, colleagues and customers.

How can businesses can play a larger role?

The Co-op has already launched several initiatives across their business groups, including a loneliness referral pathway within their employee assistance program; a neighborhood watch program in their insurance organization that looks after people as well as property; and social groups for the newly bereaved within its funeral care business.

Other suggestions presented at the conference ranged from re-designing supermarket space to creatively leveraging and re-purposing outlets like retail banks to make them more friendly and engaging to those who are socially isolated.

The bottom line – ending loneliness is good for business. It’s everyone’s business!

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