The Cost of Incognizance: How Loneliness Affects Productivity

Vidhi Dhoot and Esha Gupta, winners of the international Harvard College Economics Review x Dear Loneliness Competition, explore the economic effects of loneliness.


ABSTRACT


Loneliness refers to a state of aloneness emerging from perceived social isolation resulting in feelings of negativity, unwantedness, and at times, depression. Countless studies show widespread loneliness affecting people across all age groups and communities. While the impact of loneliness on one’s health, relationships and behavior is well known, the economic impact is less talked about. This paper attempts to study the correlation between extreme or recurring feelings of loneliness on one’s productivity during work or education. It studies the working class of people with a focus on those between the ages of 18-24. It aims to study how acute loneliness can act as an impairment in one’s work life, and whether one’s work culture is adhesive to the increasing levels of loneliness. It also aims to study whether mass loneliness across students and employees can have an impact on the performance of the institution or business organization. Primary research with 130 participants between the ages 18-24 shows that 40.8% have often felt loneliness, 42.3% claim to be voluntarily socially isolated, 19.2% are involuntarily socially isolated whereas 25.4% have never experienced either. 56.1% claim that their loneliness tends to impact their level of productivity, either sometimes or often. Finally, this paper aims to understand the different methods that can be employed to reduce this impact on productivity.


INTRODUCTION


Do Economists underrate the value of human interaction?

- Edward L. Glaeser


A study carried out by the University of Manchester, Brunel University London, and the University of Exeter highlighted that 40% of the youth between the ages of 16 and 24 experience loneliness often or very often. Similarly, in a research project conducted by the British Red Cross, 9 million adults in the UK claimed to have recurring feelings of loneliness – of which, 4 million were senior citizens.


Loneliness is a feeling emerging from perceived social isolation and disconnect from those around us. Here, the word “perceived” is of utmost importance since loneliness can also be widely felt by those in either romantic and/ or platonic relationships. It is often found that one may be accompanied by others, whose company they may or may not enjoy, and yet, experience loneliness.


Loneliness is generally termed as subjective since one cannot affix a concrete measure to determine it as its causes and impact vary based on numerous factors including social, environmental, personality & behavioural amongst others. When experienced as an extreme or recurring feeling, loneliness tends to have a massive impact on one’s life – in their relationships, will to self-motivate, productivity, and more. This essay aims to study the impact of loneliness on one’s productivity by asking two major research questions:


1. What is the impact of loneliness on productivity and is it a big enough "epidemic" to have economic repercussions to the individual themselves, and the business/ country?


2. Is increasing loneliness among people leading us to a society threatened by an increasing number of hikikomori?


THE PREVALENCE OF LONELINESS


American psychologist John Cacioppo references the desire or need for social company back to the days of the hunter-gatherers when those early humans would be disadvantaged if separated from the group. A similar perception or outlook can be observed in the present day as well. Humans, being social animals possess an intrinsic need for attention. A study conducted by psychologist John Gottman indicates a crucial relation between this need for positive attention and physical wellbeing, especially as a result of social relationships. When one experiences a lack of this attention, it deposits feelings of aloneness and disconnection – and thus, loneliness in them.


While studies show older people at a higher risk of being lonely, recent studies have shown an increasing tilt in its results. As per a survey conducted by the Community Life Survey, UK’s Office for National Statistics in 2016-2017, young adults in England between the ages of 16-24 report higher levels of loneliness than the older generations. Further, surveys conducted by Cigna, a health insurance provider, indicate a 13% rise in loneliness between 2018 and 2020. Why people feel lonely can be accredited to a large number of reasons with one of the main causes lying in the paradox of easier communication, today. Social factors tend to be ascribed as one of the leading factors of loneliness. Some of the major causes of loneliness can be listed as such:


1. Social Factors: People who are unable to fit in with their peers and acquaintances, or may not be able to cope with situations they often find themselves in because of their personality or behavioural tendencies are at a high risk of loneliness. Our research evinces that social factors such as “Disconnection/ Lack of belonging/ Not being understood” (27%) and “Personality (Introversion/ Social Awkwardness)” (9%) are some of the major reasons why people feel lonely. Many individuals who find themselves unable to fit in with their peers often endure an idealistic version of life, which results in loneliness if it does not materialise.


2. Relationships: Humans have a high need for attention, affection and an attachment with other people. When such a relationship terminates, or if one finds themselves in an abusive or emotionally non-existent relationship, it can lead to elevated levels of loneliness. 16% of our respondents feel lonely due to being in untrustworthy relationships. The inability to communicate one’s feelings with a loved one, or a lack of communication in a relationship can often manifest into feelings of loneliness. 9% of our respondents accredit their loneliness to such insufficient communication.


3. Cultural: Studies across countries and age groups have found certain communities and demographics to be more susceptible to being lonely. For instance, international students from Asian countries may find themselves unable to adjust to western cultures due to the difference in their collectivist and individualistic cultures. 5% of our respondents experience loneliness due to the difficulty of adjusting to new cultures, and being away from the comfort of their home.


4. Internet: Ever since the “internet generation” began in the early 2000s, the levels of loneliness have also risen. While the internet provides people with an easier mode of communication, it is leading people – especially, those belonging to the younger generations, to replace real-life human contacts with those available online. In fact, in some cases, it goes as far as people resorting to “internet friends” or a friendship that exists only over the internet with a person one may only know through their screen. The internet also makes it indefinitely easier for one to draw comparisons between themselves and other people leading to a lack of fulfillment in one’s own life and higher levels of loneliness.


5. Personal Experiences: One’s personal experiences, such as incidents from the past and the decisions they make can be attributed as another reason for why they feel lonely. As per our survey, 12% of the respondents attribute their loneliness to these reasons. Mental health issues, predominantly depression, and social anxiety are two other major reasons because of which people feel lonely. Low self-esteem and self-confidence lead to substantive inhibition in an individual (18% in our research) in a social situation, leading to feelings of loneliness.


PSYCHO-ECONOMIC IMPACT OF LONELINESS


Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General of the United States cites workplace loneliness as a growing health epidemic, while a study conducted by Gallup’s Well-being: The Five Essential Elements exemplifies that workplace loneliness is increasing. The study illustrates that those employees who claimed to have a “best friend” at work (30% of the respondents) were seven times more likely to be engaged during the work day, whereas those who did not have a close relationship at work were 1/12th as likely to be engaged with their co-workers. As loneliness cannot be defined as a disposition, but an emotional response and feeling one harbours based on the adequacy and quality of their social relationships, a subordinate engagement can exacerbate workplace loneliness (Barsade & Ozcelik, 2011).


A study conducted by Hakan Ozcelik, College of Business Administration and Signal Barsade, Wharton School of Business juxtaposes that the alienation lonely people experience due to inadequate engagement with their colleagues elicits attentional deficits and relational withdrawal in them, leading to a poorer performance than their non-lonely counterparts.


Loneliness at the Workplace Related to Attentional Deficits


Lonely people are more liable to fear being stigmatised, (Jones, 1982) and perceive social situations as threatening, leading to a higher self-evaluation of their behaviour. Their behaviour and responses become increasingly hypervigilant, (Cacioppo and Hawkley, 2009) which is found to lead to a depreciated ability to self-regulate their behaviour, thoughts, and feelings to self-motivate themselves to achieve their goals that makes them vulnerable to attentional, confirmatory and memory biases (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2009: 451). This can be seen to an extent where such lonely people seem unaware of such an impairment of self-regulation which can distract their attention from the work at hand (Muraven and Baumeister, 2000).


What further exacerbates a low attention span, which can be across every modern-day individual, is the augmented use of technology. With the employment of technological devices, and a consistent increase in dependency on the internet, individuals and workers are getting alarmingly disengaged from face-to-face conversations. Research by psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego University alludes that a higher screen time leads to heightened levels of loneliness. It can be presumed that attention deficits impact performance, which is further posited by a survey conducted by Cigna disclosing that 73% of heavy users of social media claimed to be lonely, whereas only 52% of light users affirmed loneliness. Lowered attention results in distracted behaviour, and thereby, difficulty in adhering to the expected level of productivity and performance.


Extensive research in the fields of social psychology and neuropsychology indicates the perpetuation of deliberate social isolation has been found to be associated with elevated levels of stress, insomnia, personality disorders, increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and impaired cognitive performance (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2006 & 2009) leading to lowered productivity and performance at the workplace and otherwise. A survey conducted by Cigna substantiates that 12% of lonely workers claim more inefficient work quality, and poorer engagement and retention rates. Our primary research indicates that 6.9% of the respondents very often find loneliness acting as a barrier to their productivity, 23.8% do so often, 25.4% respondents sometimes, 20.8% rarely and 23.1% respondents never find it to be a barrier. Although, with discrepancies, the common pattern found exhibits that those who have, or often experience extreme loneliness find it acting as a barrier to their productivity, whereas those who haven’t, find it to be less of an obstacle.


There is substantial evidence connecting this lowered performance to its business impact on the company. A reduced number of hours of productive input, lesser engagement with the organisation and a decreased drive to strive for an increasing achievement tends to pool together to decrease individual, and eventually, organisational productivity. Studies show that this costs the U.K alone, £2.5 billion or $3.5 billion (New Economics Foundation, 2018).


Loneliness at the Workplace Related to Relational Withdrawal


Human beings are led by the desire to seek social contact and connectedness, and an affiliation with one’s colleagues plays a key role in these interactions (Hess, 2006; Mehrabian & Ksionzky, 1974), which further determines its influence on one’s life outcomes (Weiss, 1973).


A study by Cacioppo et. al. sanctions that lonely young adults score higher in anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, lower optimism, and emotional instability amongst others which catalyses a lonely individual to further isolate themselves from their peers and social situations, thereby losing themselves in a self-reinforced loneliness loop. Moreover, lonely individuals respond to social situations in a manner that perpetuates their loneliness rather than alleviate it.


A research study by Harvard Business Review epitomises that a lonely person becomes less approachable, further augmenting their isolation from their co-workers. It also leads to impaired levels of affective commitment and an emotional withdrawal from the organisation resulting in a lowered task performance and inclusion as a team member. A lack of commitment to the organisation leads to heightened isolation which has been shown to positively impact the performance of the individual due to lower emotional support and guidance from their colleagues and employers. Studies by Gallup show that this disengagement leading to reduced motivation and productivity costs the U.S economy $450 billion to $550 billion a year. Individuals who are perceived as socially isolated by their co-workers and employees fall further into an emotional spiral of loneliness (Hareli & Rafaeli, 2008) due to a poorer relationship with them.


Reports show that the consequences of workplace loneliness result in a lower probability of promotions, along with decreased job satisfaction; as well as, a more frequent switching of jobs, albeit tenure at a job showed minimal alleviation in loneliness.


Furthermore, extreme loneliness is found to have a debilitating impact on one’s well-being, as recurring loneliness leads to increased chances of anxiety and puts a person at a higher risk of depression. Loneliness and depressive disorders have been found to be related, but of different constructs. (Cacioppo et. al., 2006). A study conducted by Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health (2017) cites that reduced productivity costs the U.K. £15.1 billion each year. Depression, alone, is considered to be a huge obstacle in productivity. Researcher Walter F. Stewart, PhD, MPH studies that employers in the US lose an estimated $44 billion dollars due to lower levels of productivity by those employees suffering from clinical depression, and the cost afflicted upon an employer due to the poor mental health of their employees is estimated at £26 billion each year (2017). In this way, we can see that widespread acute loneliness tends to have a debilitating impact on business revenue.


PHYSIOLOGICAL IMPACT


Loneliness is defined by people’s levels of satisfaction with their connectedness, or their perceived social isolation and its not synonymous with chosen isolation or solitude. Apart from the jarring social consequences, there are numerous health issues affiliated to loneliness; according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, a general lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder. Senior Research Scientist, Louise C. Hawkley concurs, "Our research certainly shows that the magnitude of the risk presented by social isolation is very similar in magnitude to that of obesity, smoking, lack of access to care and physical inactivity."


Loneliness has a threatening capacity when it metamorphoses into a chronic case which induces a constant state of ‘Flight or Fight’ stress signaling is triggered which could negatively impact the immune system functioning. Loneliness accrued over time could result in enhanced psychological aging. A sordid example would be that loneliness has been traced into an affiliation with cardiovascular health risks amongst the youth, which has also been stated in the studies conducted by Professor Holt-Lunstad.


Loneliness drives up the level of cortisol, which engenders the difficulty falling asleep, and an inclination to wake more frequently the duration of the night. Physiological restoration can be imparted by sleep to retaliate against the consistent challenges of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral experiences. Lack of sleep is a serious impediment to detrimental effects on inflammatory status, cardiovascular functioning, and metabolic risk factors. Additionally, inadequate sleep span is accompanied with menace for hypertension, incident coronary artery calcification, and mortality.


According to a review of studies published online April 18, 2016 by the Journal Heart, loneliness and social isolation are associated to accretion in heart conditions, "The analysis of 181,000 adults discovered that loneliness, social isolation or both were linked to a 29% higher risk of heart attack and a 32% greater risk of stroke.” A dubious link between loneliness and coronary heart diseases backed by evidence as mentioned above shows that the mental health of an employee plays a massive role in his/her productivity.


Employees feeling socially isolated at work could lead to a higher number of absentees due to sick leave and weak performance, therefore, jeopardizing an individual’s productivity and furthermore stifling a company's productivity. An estimate in the study shows a whopping £20 Million of loss due to absenteeism, in the U.K. (New Economic Foundation, 2017).


Employers have provisions for wellness programs conducive to converge on illness prevention and supervision, health assessments, and other endeavors that target high-risk individuals within an institution. “Wellness,” by and large applies to the restricted area of the physical body. The approach of these programs is pre-determined by employers, and thus does not provide employees with the liberty to make a decision. The shift of the organization from wellness to well-being is an essential maneuver to decrease the negative monetary repercussions. The concept of wellbeing is more comprehensive which encompasses an employee’s mental and emotional state regarding stress and mental resilience, along with their ability to perform efficiently and maximize their productivity leading to an overall productivity rise of the organization.


The study conducted by the New Economic Foundation employs evidence on the correspondence between loneliness and employee wellbeing, and on employee wellbeing and productivity, to gauge the curtailment in productivity attributable to loneliness. Using data on average output per employee, they estimated this to cost businesses £665 million, and besides that an estimate of £1.62 billion was calculated after using a common methodology to cost staff turnover attributable to loneliness as “these employees are twice as likely to miss a day of work due to illness and five times more likely to miss work due to stress.”(Our loneliness and the workplace: 2020 U.S Report | Cigna).


The estimated cost by considering the aforementioned figures is a massive £2.5 billion per year, which incorporates £2.1 billion towards employers in the private sector. The reason for this conspicuous difference is that the public sector sustains the cost of health impacts instead of the employers, essentially for medication managed chronic health conditions.


The research shows how important it is to take both preventive and curative measures to combat this challenge faced by all strata of society, the impact loneliness is putting on productivity, and therefore the economy is not something that can be discarded as ‘negligible.’


When asked about what measures our respondents take when loneliness acts as an obstacle to their productivity, the majority (35%) states resorting to indulging in “recreational or physical activities” (listening to music, reading, meditating, etc.) which come under curative measures; “talking to their closest friends or family members” was the second most received response with 26% of the respondents. Responses such as “Self-Motivation” (8%), “Introspection” (3%), and “Motivating Themselves to Continue Working” (10%) can also be considered as preventative measures as they constitute accepting and understanding the issue, and trying to work around solving it.


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) found that increased awareness and actively advancing the mental well-being of employees can accrue economic benefits for the business or organization, on accounts of increased commitment and job satisfaction, staff retention, improved productivity and performance, and decreased staff absenteeism.


HIKIKOMORI


Hikikomori refers to the Japanese concept of ‘acute withdrawal from society,’ and ‘to be confined within oneself,’ and is also used to describe a person living in such a manner. The term was introduced by Saitō Tamaki, a professor at Tsubaka University in his 1998 book, Social Withdrawal: Puberty Until the End, after he’d studied hikikomori for several decades. Hikikomori are those people – generally men between the ages of 15 to 64 who renounce themselves from the rest of the world by shutting themselves in their room. Estimates by the Japanese government state the existence of at least 541,000 (2015) hikikomori in Japan, however, Professor Saitō believes the figures may be twice as much, and are likely to reach well into millions soon


Whether hikikomori is a mental disorder or a lifestyle choice is unclear to researchers and psychologists. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) includes several mental disorders such as agoraphobia, depression, anxiety that exhibit similarities to characteristics found in hikikomori, but whether they are interrelated is unknown. A common notion about hikikomori is that their withdrawal emerges from laziness, but that has been proved wrong.


Traditionally, the Japanese society sets high expectations for its students in terms of academic performance and the corporate career they are expected to immediately pursue. It is considered to be highly demanding in terms of productivity and success, and is especially gruelling for those looking for a new job. Students with an average performance, who find it difficult to meet these expectations have been found to be more liable to this withdrawal. One of the major causes of this social withdrawal is the highly demanding traditional labour market in Japan which expects immensely long working hours for workers to quickly climb up the corporate ladder to reach the high-ranking positions. However, (1) the eminent competition for a traditional career in the increasingly precarious labour market provokes exorbitant stress in the youth, many of whom are unable to cope with it; (2) the evolving Japanese-style labour market is seeing a rise in non-regular workers, from 15% in 1985 to over 40% in 2019, due to the rising economic uncertainty, use of communications technology, as well as the changing notions of career and self in the youth. (3) In 1992, in Japan, graduates were offered 1.7 million jobs, which reduced to 0.6 million in 1995, and further to 0.2 million in 2003. (Inui et al.,2006). The volatility in the Japanese labour market since the bubble burst in the early 1990s, leading to the flattening of wage profiles and increasing income inequality compelled the youth to navigate this modern labour market by themselves.


Those who aren’t able to cope with the pressures of the social and economic society often end up locking themselves up in their room as a way to be sheltered from these stresses, and end up trapped in the vicious cycle, finding themselves unable to leave.


Economic Impact


While the discernible concern around the hikikomori is the mental health challenges they face and their rejoining of the society the Shinto Abe government is also expressing concerns about the financial and economic impact the increasing number of hikikomori have.


Whereas some hikikomori like Shoku Uibori became enslaved to this lifestyle at a later stage of his life, most fall into it during their youth when they’re still living with their parents. As they are likely to not be earning any money themselves, supporting them well into their working years creates a financial burden on the aging parents. A survey by the Japanese Cabinet Office states that 67.3% of hikikomori (and quasi-hikikomori) are unemployed. Furthermore, when the parents of the middle-aged (or older) hikikomori die, they are compelled to rely on the state for financial assistance.


With a growing hikikomori population in Japan, the economic burden of the so-called “workless class” or NEETs (Not in education, employment or training) is also increasing, reaching approximately 1.7 million in 2015 (OECD). Data by OECD (2019) shows that the average annual salary in Japan in 2016 was 4,085,446.90 Yen ($38,617). Considering the number of hikikomori at 541,000, with 67.3% unemployed, leaving the approximate number of unemployed hikikomori at 3,640,923, the average annual salary of this non-working class comes to 14,874,797,583,488.7 Yen or $140,601,523,491 (approximate estimates without considering taxes and insurance) that the government loses out on.


With 28% of the Japanese population being above 65 years of age, and a considerable percentage of the youth withdrawing from participation in the labour market, the Japanese economy is looking to face harsh consequences, and an economic dip if the issue of NEETs and hikikomori isn’t tackled. The concern lies not only in the hikikomori not contributing to the Japanese workforce but also in their lack of involvement and participation in society, whereby they do not contribute monetarily to the economy of the country.


To mitigate the economic impact of such an extensive group of unemployed and socially withdrawn youth, policies to provide them with financial assistance and counseling may guide them into re-joining the economy. "It's an investment, not a cost," as transfiguring hikikomori members into the labour force would strengthen economic output. Conforming to calculations based on the present-day available data from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, if each welfare recipient will convert into a taxpayer the revenue will be reckoned between ¥78 million ($734,860) and ¥98 million ($923,287) to the nation’s finances across their lifetime. In the long run, investment to return ratio will be beneficial for the economy. Acquiring these hikikomori would be arduous for the state as a survey affirms that 65% of the hikikomori were anxious about these services on the account of not being able to communicate or hesitant to have other people discern them. Such circumstances act as a serious impediment to economic participation and public health.


Hikikomori across cultural borders


A recurring pattern noticed across cultures, and amongst the youth is the increasing prevalence of an individualistic lifestyle, especially in post-industrial societies. (Arnett, 2011). With an increase in such individualistic ideals and ideas (Hamamura, 2012; Ogihara et al., 2015) and competition at an individual level (Yuki and Brewer, 2014), feelings of loneliness and isolation are becoming rampant in countries such as the United States which is traditionally individualistic, or even in the assiduous streets of India or Japan.


While the recognition of the hikikomori condition is not as wide-spread outside of Japan, with these nations judging unemployment rising out of social exclusion on the basis of the homeless rather than NEETs, cases of NEETs and hikikomori have been reported in several other countries like the United States of America, India, Oman and across the European Union. There were around 10.2 million NEETs in the U.S. alone in 2015 (Bureau of Labour Statistics), roughly 13.4 million across the E.U (Pew Research Centre), and 27.2% (423 million) in India. The global NEETs percentage stands at 34% (women, age 15-24) and 10% (men, age 15-24). One of the major reasons for the existence of NEETs in the U.S. is because of the extremely high debt the average student of American student graduates with.


With the evolution of social structures and lifestyle, especially amongst the youth, acute loneliness is quickly becoming a common phenomenon. While most people become conversant with loneliness to an extent that can be managed if tackled in time; if the epidemic is ignored, or if the stimuli leading to loneliness are disregarded, then it could lead to an extensive and capacious “epidemic” of hikikomori or NEET as a larger number of individuals will start withdrawing from the social and economic society.


SOLUTIONS


Within Japan, more than fifty government-funded community support centres have been established, to provide telephonic consultation, aid in job placements, and engineered meeting spaces for hikikomori. Another program initiated by a company, ‘New Start’ in Japan has introduced the concept of a rental-sister who spends between six months to two years, coaxing and motivating a hikikomori to rejoin the social, and eventually economic society. New Start shows a success rate of 80% over the past 18 years, however, cannot be considered the ideal solution as it costs around 100,0000 Yen (approximately, $900) a month for weekly visits unless the hikikomori and his/ her family is supported by government aid.


A more comprehensive solution actualises in spreading awareness about the evolving labour market and social structures, as well as more knowledge surrounding the hikikomori condition or more generally, NEETs. Developing an understanding of why people end up in such a condition, at times, reaching the hikikomori stage, and providing them with the necessary social support and medical treatment, whilst impeaching the notion that they lack self-worth can help them emerge from their social withdrawal, or economic abstinence, and rejoin society. In the case of those who wish to work or receive further education, policies and opportunities must be created while taking a variety of factors such as their financial capabilities, social situation, medical conditions, and such into consideration. Moreover, the current fast-paced occupational structure demands one to constantly evolve their skill-set in order to remain relevant in various fields. Opportunities to strengthen their skillset and ease in accessibility should be ensured by government and private institutions to help not only the youth, but also older workers to remain pertinent in the industries.


Within occupational organisations, employees must foster a more inclusive workplace culture for staff wellbeing based on team-building sessions to transform into a more effective team, and furthermore, encourage employees to seek help if required. Additionally, training focused on intra-employee, as well as employee-employer communication will help create a more comprehensive and motivating environment, which could reduce loneliness, and help those employees facing social challenges.


Gross National Happiness (GNH) which was introduced in Bhutan the 1970s as an alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures moral progress and the quality-of-life, along with the economic progress of the country. While the employment of GNH may be difficult or inefficient in the more-populous and capitalist countries, application of certain indicators included in it such as psychological well-being, community vitality, work-life balance, and ecological resilience will help improve the work quality, mental and physical health of workers, and aid the country in faring better in economic and other well-being based measures. Ratification and development of overall health, by amalgamating mental health policies into public health and social policies must be done by the government, as there is clear evidence linking the physical and mental health of the society to the economic output of the country.


CONCLUSION


We began this study by analysing the impact of loneliness on one's productivity through two research questions. Upon scrutinising our primary and secondary data, we deduce that loneliness alters one's productivity and it is a big enough threat to be an "epidemic" as we've manifested the plight of economic repercussions by supporting our claims with ample data and illustrated the same by taking Japan as a specimen. We've also provided evidence in regard to the wide-ranging surveillance and nature of the situation and the uprising cases across borders.


To acknowledge our second question, we concur that the increasing loneliness in people is leading us to a society threatened by a rise in hikikomori. Based on our secondary research, we infer that the evolving social structures, along with stringent labour markets, economic recessions and lack of opportunities for education, is leading to an increase in the number of NEETs globally. We extrapolate that if the NEET issue is not tackled quickly, the possibility of such individuals withdrawing from the social, and therefore, economic society completely, increases expansively.


Hence, we concluded this study with a set of suggestions around the problem of workplace loneliness and productivity, and government policies to address the growing number of NEETs and possibly, hikikomori.


LIMITATIONS


The limitations of the primary research lie in the paucity of the sample size, and the selection of the respondents which is limited to a singular age-group, that is, 18-24, and geographical demographics thereby subjecting it to cultural biases. The paper is subjective due to the idiosyncratic nature of the topic, and can therefore, be interpreted in different ways.



VIDHI DHOOT, 19, is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Jai Hind College, Mumbai, India. Her interest in academic research has led her to write other papers in the realms of Political Science and Economics under topics ranging from Constitutionality and Election Manifestos, to the Economics of Healthcare; and has presented the same at various intercollegiate events. She has been entrusted with several leadership positions- from being elected Captain in High School to organising and managing events at one of India's finest Economics and Business Festivals, Arthanomics, for three consecutive years. Apart from academics, she is an accomplished Table Tennis player and has won myriad awards and medals at State and National level as a result of her perseverance and dedication for the past ten years. After graduation, Vidhi plans on pursuing a career in research focused on Behavioural Economics.


ESHA GUPTA, 20, is currently pursuing her degree in Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Jai Hind College, Mumbai. She is passionate about Environmentalism and Behavioural Economics, and recently finished writing a research paper on the Nudge Theory and Determinism. Her contribution to her department magazine and website, The Contrarian with several editorials and research articles has led to her holding the position of the editor-in-chief for the current academic year. In her three months of being in this role, she has managed to amass international contributors and a traction of readers surpassing previous years. Prior to this, she interned at a media firm as a social media data analyst with clients including Adidas and P&G.



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