Research by the Co-op showed that people who were lonely were 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 study suggested that firms were neglecting the problem rather than offering support, adding that employee turnover caused by loneliness was costing £1.62bn a year, while cutting productivity by £665m.
Days lost from colleagues with caring responsibilities for those with health conditions attributed to loneliness costs £220m while lost working days from those experiencing loneliness amounts to £20m.
Rufus Olins 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.”
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.
According to the study, 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 Co-op, which has raised more than £4m 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 said it 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 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.
It is also a member of the recently launched Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. Rachel Reeves MP and Seema Kennedy MP, co-chairs of the commission, 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.”