Loneliness epidemic costs UK businesses £2.5 billion a year

20 February 2017

The UK’s loneliness epidemic is costing employers a massive £2.5billon a year, according to a major new study published today (20 February).

The research, which was commissioned by the Co-op, a member of the recently launched Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, shows that people who are lonely are five times more likely than others to leave their job within a year.

Compiled by the New Economics Foundation, the Cost of Loneliness to UK Employers calculates that employee turnover brought on by loneliness costs businesses £1.62billion a year and reduced productivity amounts to a further £665million annually. Days lost from colleagues with caring responsibilities for those with health conditions attributed to loneliness costs £220million while lost working days from those experiencing loneliness amounts to £20million.

With over 30 million individuals employed in the UK the total cost of loneliness translates into an average cost of at least £82 per year per employee.

This figure could be even higher as in all cases the researchers adopted conservative assumptions and only focussed on the more direct costs to employers. It did not, for example, include the increased cost to the NHS of treating ill-health that is attributable to loneliness which, if funded by increased taxes across the board, would result in higher corporation tax.

The report concludes that the issue of loneliness is largely neglected in the workplace and strongly suggests that it is in the interests of employers to use both reactive and preventative approaches to minimise the loneliness of their employees.

The Co-op, which has raised more than £4 million for its campaign, in conjunction with British Red Cross, to tackle loneliness across all ages, has several polices that help counter isolation and loneliness for its colleagues.

With almost 400 apprentices aged over 50, the food to funerals mutual recognises that staying in work past retirement age is a way for colleagues to maintain their social connections and prevent or lessen the impacts of loneliness.

The Co-op is re-launching its Employee Assistance Programme which enables colleagues experiencing loneliness to confidentially seek less formal support as well as support for psychological and trauma-related issues.

Recognising that many colleagues are also carers for close friends or family members, the Co-op has put in place a dedicated policy that sets out practical things it can do to help – such as time off, access to a phone while at work and help with carers’ assessments.

Earlier this month the Co-op signed up to the TUC’s Dying to Work Charter, formalising its support for colleagues who are diagnosed as terminally ill. The Charter commits employers to keeping colleagues employed, if that is what they want, so protecting any death in service benefits as well as providing a support network for them and their families.

Rufus Olins, Chief Membership Officer Executive of the Co-op, 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 that 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, co- chairs of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, 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.”

Media Contact

Dave Smith
Corporate PR Manager
Landline: 0161 692 4285
Mobile: 07702152771
Email: Dave.smith@coop.co.uk