The Benefits of Social Connections

The Benefits of Social Connection

If you or your employees have felt lonely or isolated over the past couple of years, you aren’t the only ones. The pandemic has walloped Canadians’ mental health. Angus Reid Institute found increased numbers of people felt isolated or lonely in an October 2020 study, which also revealed 47% of Canadians rated their mental health as fair, poor, or very poor, a large jump over the 30% of Canadians who identified that way in 2019. A Morneau Shepell report determined Canadian workers’ mental health was 10.2 points lower on the mental health index for September 2020 compared to the start of the pandemic.

While loneliness affects people’s mental and physical health, what’s less widely known is how it affects workers’ performance on the job. In 2020, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) partnered with Howatt HR to research the connections between isolation and related feelings, and their impact on productivity at work. Preliminary results showed that employees with high perceived isolation and loneliness took almost double the number of sick days compared to employees with low perceived levels. On the positive side, the research found that socially connected employees put in more effort at work and had fewer days of working while feeling unwell (aka, “presenteeism”).

One starting point for your employees (and you) to feel more connected is the Hugr app, now available with premium features for all Chambers Plan members and their dependents. The app uses evidence-based supports and tools to address the risks that social isolation and loneliness have on our mental and physical health. The design was inspired by the app creators’ real-life experiences: “This is the outcome of lived experience and a trying time for our small business,” said Daren McLean, co-founder of Hugr.

The Hugr team worked with Dr. Bill Howatt—a Canadian workplace mental health researcher, author and the expert behind Howatt HR—to apply their lived experience to global research and evidence about the effects of social isolation and loneliness on mental health. The app leads the user through self-awareness check-ins in an ICBT learning program based on anxiety research. Hugr users can track trends in their activities, feelings and experiences to see correlations in their social connections, experience at work, loneliness and isolation. Users can also invite their trusted support persons to share their wellness journey.

While feeling lonely or isolated can make people imagine they’re the only person to ever experience these emotions, the truth is, these feelings are common. Encouraging and facilitating a journey of self-awareness, one that promotes social connections, can help you and your employees to improve your mental and physical well-being and strengthen your team.