Global employees spend almost 50 per cent of each day on digital communication, with more than half feeling lonely as a result, according to a new study by Future Workplace and Virgin Pulse.

The study, which surveyed more than 2,000 managers and employees in 10 different countries, found employees are increasingly dependent on technology tools to communication with colleagues, compared to in-person communications. These tools include email (45 per cent), text messaging (15 per cent) and instant messaging (12 per cent). Among respondents who cited email, more than 40 per cent said they feel lonely always or very often, aren’t engaged and have a high need for social connection.

Read: Is loneliness the next employee wellness frontier?

“We all need technology in order to do our jobs. It facilitates our ability to communicate across time zones, work schedules, geographies and offices,” said Dr. Rajiv Kumar, chief medical officer at Virgin Pulse and president of Virgin Pulse Institute, in a press release. “As organizational leaders, this requires us to be much more mindful and purposeful about creating opportunities and time for human interaction. Employees can so easily get lost behind instant messages and emails.

“But true connection only happens when we pick up the phone and have a conversation, or get together in person for a discussion or meeting. I have found that having those connections is one of the strongest predictors of employee satisfaction, retention, performance and success. This study underscores the need for us to help our employees by fostering human interaction, communication and strong relationships that extend past the workplace.”

The study also found seven per cent of all employees globally have no friends at work and more than half have five or fewer total friends among their colleagues. About two-thirds (62 per cent) of those who have five or fewer friends in the workplace said they feel lonely either always or very often, while 72 per cent said they aren’t engaged. Sixty per cent said they’d be more inclined to stay with their company for longer if they had more friends at work. This was especially true for generation Z (74 per cent) and millennials (69 per cent), compared with generation X (59 per cent) and baby boomers (40 per cent).

Read: Fostering workplace friendships key to engagement at B.C. company

About a third of global employees work remotely always or very often, and two-thirds of these survey respondents said they aren’t engaged. Only five per cent of remote workers always or very often see themselves working at their company for their entire career, compared with 28 per cent who never work remotely. Just under 40 per cent of respondents who never get face time with their team are remote workers and 43 per cent said more face-time would help them build deeper relationships with their team. Eighty per cent of those who said they’d have better relationships if their team communicated with them more often work remotely.

The study also found men (57 per cent) are more likely to feel lonely at work than women (43 per cent). As well, younger generations feel lonely at work more often than older generations, with generation Z (45 per cent) and millennials (47 per cent) feeling lonely at work more often than generation X (36 per cent) and baby boomers (29 per cent).

Leaders can help facilitate stronger relationships between team members through team-building activities (45 per cent), social events (45 per cent) and workations (31 per cent), according to the survey. Just 20 per cent of respondents said they could encourage connections using collaborative technologies and feel that in-person experiences are more impactful.

Read: Why you should be forcing workplace colleagues to socialize more

“I have long held the belief that technology can never replace the nuance and elegance of human connection,  said Rashida Hodge, vice-president of Watson Embed and strategic partnerships at IBM Corp. “Throughout my career, the vast majority of my most enriching experiences were in-person, face-to-face connections. I rarely remember the emails, teleconferences or web calls, but I keep with me the fun team dinners, coffee catchups and impromptu hallway hellos. This study takes what we know to be true in our hearts and souls and provides the research to support our intuition. It’s a call to action to rethink how we use and develop technology.