Picking yourself up by the bootstraps and being a self-made success are hallmarks of the rugged individualism which is often praised in Western culture. We all love a good story about the hero who does it on her own, however, that story is more fiction than fact. The reality is that it is practically impossible to survive without others. We are wired for human connection, and the physical, mental, and emotional benefits which come from it are essential for us not only to survive but to thrive. This is something of which injured workers are often deprived but Return to Work (RTW) programs can provide all the amazing benefits of human connection while the injured worker is recovering.
The Effects of Human Connection on Mental & Physical Health
How detrimental is a lack of human connection to our physical health? According to a 2018 American Journal of Epidemiology article, social isolation was identified as an, “…independent risk factor for death on a par with well-established mortality risk factors such as physical inactivity, obesity, and lack of access to health care.” It also found that out of the hundreds of thousands of study participants, those with a lack of close relationships experienced a nearly 50% increase in premature mortality from all causes. Furthermore, Harvard Medical School says that isolation is roughly as bad for our physical health as smoking nearly an entire pack of cigarettes every day.
Conversely, having a strong human connection in our day-to-day lives can have incredible benefits. Stanford Medicine asserts that having strong social connections may lead to a 50% increased chance of longevity, increased immune function, decreased inflammation, speedier recovery from illness, and maybe a longer life. But the positive effects are not limited to physical health. Stanford Medicine continues by stating:
“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being.”
The negative emotional aspects of social isolation were shockingly illustrated during the recent shutdowns related to COVID-19. Before the pandemic, a survey from Cigna showed that 3 in 5 Americans (61%) reported feeling lonely. During the pandemic, Harvard found that anxiety symptoms tripled, and cases of depression quadrupled.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of an injured worker. They were receiving all the benefits of regular human connection before their injury, but now they are stuck at home. They did not ask to be cut off from their coworkers and employer, and they may not even fully understand the detriment of missing out on the face-to-face time provided by their normal schedule. It stands to reason that the negative effects of suboptimal human connection are likely to rear their heads when our injured employees are recovering at home, possibly alone.
Healing Through Human Connection & Return-to-Work
How can we bridge this gap of human connection for our injured workers and make sure that they are in the best possible position for recovery and continued good health? The answer is quite simple – return-to-work programs.
Return to Work affords the human connection opportunity that our injured employees desperately need. These programs not only give injured individuals a sense of purpose during their recovery, but they facilitate continued socialization.
At ReEmployAbility, we match injured workers with non-profit organizations that need volunteers. This allows injured workers to engage in human connection and, in addition, it also provides the myriad benefits of volunteerism.
In a previous article, we discussed the “2017 Doing Good is Good for You Study” by United Healthcare. This study was conducted with over 2,700 adults who had volunteered for a charitable cause in the previous 12 months. The study results were remarkable! Out of all the study participants who engaged in volunteerism, 75% reported feeling physically healthier, 93% had improved mood, and 94% reported feeling an enriched sense of purpose.
More on the data analysis of this study is available when you follow the link >>
The study also revealed that:
“…volunteers have consistently higher scores (by about 15 percent)
than non-volunteers on nine well-established measures of emotional
well-being including personal independence, capacity for rich
interpersonal relationships and overall satisfaction with their life.”
How amazing is that? According to this data, the benefits of volunteering seem to reinforce the benefits of human connection. What is even more incredible is that volunteer opportunities, when supported by their current employer, led participants to report an improvement in professional skills, people skills, and a positive outlook on their employer.
As employers, this is something we can all get behind.
You may be asking yourself if this is too good to be true. What’s the catch? Well, there really isn’t one. Humans are truly wired to connect with others. Think about it. Mammals survive by grouping together; it is in our nature. We didn’t become the dominant species on this planet because we are the biggest, strongest, or most fierce animal, we did it by forming groups. It comes, then, as no surprise that grouping is essential for our health and well-being.
Return to Work programs that focus on volunteerism provide the benefits of human connection as well as the benefits of volunteering. We could simply let our injured employees languish at home during their recovery, or we could do something which is not only greatly beneficial to them but also beneficial to us as employers.
Alcaraz, K., et al. 2018. Social Isolation and Mortality in US Black and white men and Women.
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Harvard Health Publishing. 2010. The health benefits of strong relationships. Retrieved 21
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Seppala, E. 2014. Connectedness and health: The science of social connection. Stanford
Medicine. Retrieved 22 February 2023 from http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/
United Healthcare. 2017 Doing Good is Good for You Study. Retrieved 23 February 2023 from
Weissbourd, R. et al. 2020. Loneliness in America: How the pandemic has deepened an epidemic
of loneliness and what we can do about it. Harvard. Retrieved 6 March 2023 from
Cigna. 2020. Loneliness and the workplace. Retrieved 7 March 2023 from