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Employee Stress Hits Record Highs in Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce Report

  • Gallup report on workforce trends associates elevated stress with impact of COVID-19 on workplace culture
  • American respondents report greater engagement at work, but also experience more negative emotions compared to global respondents
  • Gallup says the results show the need for companies to focus on improving employee well-being and engagement

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

Employee stress levels leapt in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic having a major impact on the businesses, according to Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workforce report. At the same time, employee engagement improved in the United States and more workers worldwide were describing themselves as thriving.

The 191-page report looked at global trends as well as trends in 11 geographic regions. The primary data for the report was derived from the Gallup World Poll.

Forty-five percent of global respondents said the COVID-19 pandemic had affected them “a lot,” with the share increasing to 50 percent in the United States. Forty percent of American respondents said COVID-19 had caused them to work shorter hours, 38 percent stopped working temporarily, 33 percent lost pay, and 18 percent lost their job or business. The pandemic impact in the United States was less pronounced than the worldwide one, with 53 percent of global respondents temporarily stopping work, 50 percent losing pay, 49 percent working fewer hours, and 32 percent losing their job or business.

While the overall share of employees saying they were engaged at work fell from 22 percent in 2019 to 20 percent, worker engagement improved two points in the United States. The share remained low, with just 34 percent saying they were engaged at work.

The share of workers experiencing stress on the previous day increased from 38 percent in 2019 to 43 percent. American workers were already stressed before the pandemic, with half of all respondents in 2019 reporting stress; the share increased to 57 percent in 2020. Curiously, worker stress in Western Europe fell seven points with 39 percent saying they had felt stress on the previous day.

Forty-eight percent of American respondents said they had experienced worry for much of the previous day, with 26 percent experiencing sadness and 22 percent experiencing anger. In the global sample, 41 percent had experienced worry, 25 percent sadness, and 24 percent anger.

Fourteen percent of respondents worldwide said they had not been treated with respect at some point in the previous day. The share was just 6 percent in the U.S., although this was two points higher than in 2019.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the share of employees describing themselves as thriving based on a measure of their own personal life increased two points to 32 percent. Workers in Nordic countries were most likely to describe themselves as thriving, including 85 percent in Finland and 79 percent in Denmark. Fifty-six percent of American respondents described themselves this way, down five points from 2019.

Gallup suggested that the perception of enhanced well-being may have been influenced by gratitude for having a job during the economic downturn or respondents considering themselves better off than other places suffering a worse impact from COVID-19. The poll also concluded that business leaders should focus on employee well-being and engagement in order to improve their performance, productivity, resilience, and workplace culture.

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