Loneliness in the workplace is bad for the bottom line

Being lonely has the same health burden as someone who smokes 15 cigarettes a day, psychologist and TV host Nigel Latta says.

Mr Latta was talking at a recent wellbeing conference hosted by Southern Cross.

"Being lonely, being disconnected, not feeling supported by the group of people you're with, has a significant effect on your health. It also lowers your IQ, and makes you less rational," Mr Latta said.

"We like to connect with other people. Not connecting with others is super bad for our health."

However, the pressures put on individuals in today's workplaces lead to stress and disconnection.

Speaking at the same conference, Jacqui Maguire, managing director of corporate wellbeing company Umbrella, says mental wellbeing needs to be integral in the workplace.

Mental health makes us feel satisfied, that we have a sense of mastery in our work, we're engaged and we can collaborate and form high quality connections, Ms Maguire says.

Jacqui Maguire.
Jacqui Maguire. Photo credit: Supplied

Unfortunately, one in five members of staff have high levels of psychological distress, and around 20 percent of the working population experiences high levels of stress.

"We now play in a global, rather than local, market," Ms Maguire says.

We have to take in huge amounts of information every day and, not only do we have to compute that, we have to disseminate it. We have to innovate and disrupt the marketplace at the same time as doing business as usual, which leaves workers feeling overwhelmed, she says.

"Overwhelmed people can't focus, make good decisions and are irritable, and that impacts business."

While stress is important, long-term stress is detrimental Mr Latta says.

Long-term stress can lead to a run-down immune system, changes in the way energy is restored and retrieved so that sugar is more likely to be taken out of the liver and put into the system, higher levels of cortisol which leads to feelings of hunger, and increased blood pressure, all of which can lead to weight gain.

The cost to businesses of stressed workers with poor mental wellbeing is higher rates of absenteeism and presenteeism (this is when a person's body is at work, but their brains are not engaged, only working at less than 50 percent capacity.)

That's why it is so important that wellbeing is integral in the workplace, Ms Maguire says.

She says, according to a Deloitte's return on investment, every dollar spent on mental health in the workplace, will get a $4.20 return.

What causes distress?

Money and financial strain, family problems, balancing work and childcare, and commuting all rank high in terms of causing stress. In terms of workplace factors, not being consulted about change and having a high workload are the two leading stress inducers, Ms Maguire says.

Nigel Latta.
Nigel Latta. Photo credit: Supplied

However, workplaces can foster a culture of resilience and wellbeing through remunerating and rewarding wellbeing.

Simple changes, such as providing staff with a space to spend time being mindful, in addition to creating a culture of wellbeing, which is practiced by team leaders, will benefit individuals as well as production.

Mr Latta has a simple solution for stressed individuals: do good.

"Do good for each other. Our social brains want to connect with others. If you're compassionate and kind to someone else, they get oxytocin, you get oxytocin. If you are kind to yourself, you also get oxytocin.

"When in doubt, do some small good thing for that person, the dividends will pay off," he says.