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Addressing global unhappiness in the workplace as leaders

Global unhappiness is a world crisis that needs to be addressed, according to a published report by global analytics and advice firm Gallup. Research began last year, where Gallup interviewed 127,000 adults over 122 countries. Participants were required to answer a series of questions and their responses were scored along the Negative Experience Index - A key indicator in the research that is designed to assess participants’ negative emotions involving stress, anxiety, anger, sadness and physical pain.

By early 2022 when the research had concluded, the team’s finding showed that 33% of the world reported feeling unhappy with their lives. In fact, Gallup’s data has shown that global unhappiness has been on a steady rise since 2014, starting at a rate of 24% global unhappiness and peaking at 33% this year. Based on the current world trends and trajectory of the graph, this number is expected to increase further as we step into the later years. In another separate study published in the same year, Gallup also found that 60% of employees reported feeling unhappy and detached at the workplace globally. Put simply, global unhappiness is everywhere and it has found a way to seep into our lives. The question is how, and why is this happening?

What’s causing the upward trend?

One common belief that the world has about global unhappiness is that COVID-19 is single-handedly the culprit behind it. And while that may be the case, Gallup CEO Joe Clifton believes that is only the partial truth...

“People think it is a result of COVID. And it is. People do feel more angry. They do feel more sad and they do feel more stressed as a result of COVID. But this trend of increasing negative emotions has been happening for a decade straight, well before COVID ravaged our world.”

Clifton credits causes such as rise in living costs, war-torn times, digital disruption and global loneliness as factors that aggravate global unhappiness. Meanwhile, here’s our additional take on global unhappiness from the perspective of the workplace.

Poor compensation

In a time of global recession, many businesses are struggling and are forced to layoff most of their employees. The lack of proper manpower distribution at work has led some employees to shoulder on additional work tasks for the same price, and often being subjected to overtime and less time offs. Most employees are unable to protest against the change, as doing so may open them up to the possibility of being quiet fired, causing additional stress and anxiety to the employee.

A lack of work-life balance

With the increase in workloads and overtime comes the lack of work-life balance in our lives. Most employees are finding it difficult to put their devices away to spend time with their families, being subjected to the beck and call of their employers. The perpetual state of work and the grind has led numerous employees to develop signs of burnout and psychological exhaustion, which increases their susceptibility to the range of negative emotions highlighted in Gallup’s Negative Experience Index.

Rising living costs

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The disruption in the global supply chain. The great resignation. These are some of the many notable events that have plunged the world into a time of deep recession, inflation, and a rise in living costs. People are losing their jobs, their spending power has taken a dip, and it has become harder for them to afford necessities since then, and it reflects in our daily lifestyle. People are worried about their future and their ability to weather rainier days, which puts everyone at significant distress.

An era of digital disruption

Technology has assumed a dominant role in our lives, and the pandemic has only heightened its role since then. News can be transmitted and received at lightspeed, and people are exposed to a multitude of news sources, good and bad ones. When used properly, technology can be empowering. However, that isn’t the case with society today, as there is a tendency for humans to focus on the negatives and compare. When amplified over certain mediums i.e. social media, these perceptions can easily distort reality and bring about a greater sense of negative emotions to viewers.

Job insecurity

Apart from a lack in manpower, the global recession has also caused many employees to question their job security. Repeated layoffs in a company may cause employees to question their longevity in the company. As it stands, taking on additional workload and being a stellar performer is no longer enough to keep a job. If the circumstance demands an employee be let go, they will be axed regardless.

Global loneliness

In a time where social distancing has become the norm in our lives, many employees are deprived of the luxury to interact with their colleagues in person. The new norm, coupled with the perception that technology serves as a readily efficient “substitute” to actual workplace interaction has caused us to feel lonelier than ever. Gallup reports that 330 million adults go about their lives without engaging in any conversations with their peers or loved ones for at least 2 weeks. And of that figure, at least ⅕ of them reported having no trusted friends in their lives that they could comfortably confide their problems to. This number does not even account for social support at the workplace yet.

Tackling global unhappiness in the workplace

At a macroscopic level, it is difficult for us to pinpoint a one-size fits all solution. With so many factors at play, we can only speculate and hypothesize ways we can address global unhappiness. However, tackling the matter from the workplace can aid the cause. Here’s what we suggest:

1. Foster kindness at work

We live in stressful times, and everyone deserves a little more empathy and compassion at work. Advocating for the importance of workplace mental health is a big step towards addressing global unhappiness. In fact, many organizations are investing in Employee Assistance Programs to ensure employees’ mental wellness are met. Whether it’s creating a safe place for employees to talk about their problems without judgment or lending a supportive ear to them, providing employees with a reliable workplace social support system helps at keeping global unhappiness at bay, even if just for a moment.

2. Preach work-life balance

Increased workloads and worktimes can cause employees to feel an imbalance in their work-life balance. Senior management and leaders should take note of pushing their employees to the point of burning out. Actively encouraging employees to take time off from their devices and coming up with company policies to prohibit off-hour communication are some ways to help employees maintain work-life balance.

3. Practice hybrid/remote working styles

With the rollout of vaccines globally and COVID-19 becoming an inseparable part of our lives, many offices are now recalling their staff back to work. And while COVID is no longer regarded as the life-threatening disease that it once was, many employees have grown used to a remote working style. Furthermore, concerns about COVID still lingers despite it becoming a new norm in our lives. With growing concerns about work-life balance and rising living costs, many offices should strive to allow employees to work remotely or come into the office on alternate days. The move not only helps employees with cost-saving and cutting down commuting times, it also allows them to bond with their family and play an active role in their household. Increased social bonding with family and loved ones will result in an increase in happiness.

4. Fair compensations based on a meritocratic system

The quiet quitting movement that has dominated the workplace in recent weeks has taught us much about employee-employer commitment and the relationship that they have. Employees want to be fairly compensated for going above and beyond at work and they want it now. In a time of global recession, many businesses expect employees to take on additional work tasks for the same price, subjecting their people to overtime and less time offs. However, not all businesses, especially the struggling ones can afford that. While monetary incentives and compensations are great ways to reward people for going above and beyond, struggling businesses can compensate differently by providing replacement leaves, flexible working hours following a night of overtime, compensatory off-days, even creative measures such as doing grocery runs for the employee is an interesting way to reward employees. Anything that helps your employee offset their living expenses can be given in lieu of money itself.

5. Diversity and inclusivity

Many jobseekers and employees demand for diversity and inclusivity at the workplace these days. This includes gender and racial inclusion, sometimes even sexuality and physical ability. People want to be seen and heard, and acknowledgement of their presence means greatly to them. Diversity and inclusivity practice include electing a person of color or female employees in leadership roles, or employing an individual with slight or moderate physical/mental disability work.

6. Embracing authenticity and vulnerability

It’s hard enough showing up to work and putting up a front. People are tired of wearing masks at work and many simply just want to be their best, authentic selves. Be it apologizing to a colleague for a mistake at work or providing honest, genuine feedback to a colleague, encouraging employees to be their authentic selves helps tremendously in improving happiness at work. Leaders can encourage this trend by displaying themselves in an authentic and vulnerable manner too.

Long way to go…

It’s clear that global unhappiness is becoming a deeply concerning matter to the world and people are no longer ignoring the signs of it. Now, they not only want to live a happy life, but to be genuinely happy too. And while global unhappiness isn’t new, people are now calling for the world to nip the issue in the bud. Evidently, we still have a long way to go as we’re merely at the start of it, and further research is required to understand the topic on a greater level before large-scale actions can be doled out to address the problem. In the meantime, we can all play our part in society by actively spreading kindness and compassion wherever we go, be it workplace or elsewhere. Slowly but surely, we can help lower global unhappiness in our immediate communities through our own ways.

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