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The Chairman's Blog
The Mood of the World
The Chairman's Blog

The Mood of the World


What if the next global crisis is a mental health pandemic?

It is here now.

At this writing, the U.S. Census Bureau finds that a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression. This is a huge jump from even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In a question about depressed mood, the percentage of Americans who reported symptoms doubled from 2014. Gallup also found historic increases in stress and worry across our U.S. sampling frames.

As anxiety and stress soar, so does hopelessness, too often followed by suicides -- including "deaths of despair," a new designation made prominent by Princeton economists Anne Case and Nobel laureate Sir Angus Deaton.

Deaths of despair are suicides and deaths caused by fatal behaviors such as drug overdoses and liver failure from chronic alcohol consumption. They have increased dramatically since the mid-1990s, from about 65,000 in 1995 to 158,000 in 2018.

Think of deaths of despair as suicide in slow motion.

Gallup knows that a mental health pandemic can kill hundreds of thousands of citizens just as a coronavirus pandemic can.

In a 2020 worldwide survey, Gallup found that roughly seven in 10 people are struggling or suffering in their lives.

Besides destroying lives, suffering can destroy the human spirit that drives innovation, economic energy and eventually, good jobs. This is likely tied to declining economic dynamism. Global GDP per capita is slowing -- it has been for decades. And so far, it has been impossible to reverse.

Declining economic dynamism is the other global warming.

Gallup is taking on the mental health challenge, because solving any big, seemingly impossible problem starts with the question "What can we measure?"

Metrics That Help Leaders Run a Better World

There are measures such as the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, which include the official statistics of worldwide poverty, pollution, hunger, modern slavery and disease. These widely recognized official statistics of the most serious conditions facing humankind -- that world leaders know as "SDGs" -- are mostly collected by governments, nongovernmental organizations and some by Gallup.

Gallup believes SDGs are a good thing that world leaders need, or they have no way of auditing societal progress. These metrics help leaders run a better world.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles are another even newer set of measurables that associations such as the U.S. Business Roundtable and World Economic Forum are forming and agreeing on. And the Big Four accounting firms and large corporations are supporting these ESG standards. ESG principles are being built to help run better corporations.

Corporations are being asked to use ESG principles to expand their business purpose beyond shareholder return.

They are being asked to provide proof of a positive impact on the environment, as well as on the communities, customers and suppliers they engage. And they need to offer evidence that they operate with ethics and integrity (governance). These new requirements audit the character of an organization.

SDGs and ESG principles are good things. They demand more from leadership.

However, there are still no organizational benchmarks for the most critical issue of all -- the state of mental health and wellbeing. There are no formal agreed-upon metrics for the states of suffering, struggling and thriving.

There are still no official statistics for worldwide workplace wellbeing.

It is unlikely that you or other leaders have data on companywide wellbeing or resiliency -- or data on how many employees in your organization are filled with stress and will soon burn out versus how many experience high inspiration.

There are no official statistics for "How are your employees making it through COVID-19 and a crashing economy?"

We know the temperature of the Earth, and we closely monitor the increments of rising seas. We know that the moon is more than 200,000 miles away -- but we have very few measurements on the mood of the world.

The best thing we have is crude global suicide data that offer some insights into suffering. The World Health Organization estimates country suicide rates, which gives us a general idea of the prevalence of this most tragic translation of life -- extreme emotional suffering. This is about as close as it gets.

What we need is a way to check in on all constituencies in all countries and organizations so we can ask, "How is your life going?"

When a CEO, prime minister, governor or mayor asks, "What percentage of our people are suffering, struggling or thriving?" -- just measuring and reporting the answers will change the world.

There are no official statistics for "How are your employees making it through COVID-19 and a crashing economy?"

Gallup Net Thriving

Gallup's goal is to discover and quantify the difference between the best possible life and the worst possible life.

The metric we used to report the best possible life is what we call "net thriving." Gallup researchers and our external senior scientists refer to this metric as "Gallup Net Thriving" (GNT). We have been closely monitoring Gallup Net Thriving since 2005. GNT is the "other GDP" for countries or the "other stock price" for organizations.

Gallup Net Thriving (GNT) is derived from this extraordinarily simple two-part question:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.

  • Q1: On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (0-10)
  • Q2: On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (0-10)

Gallup recommends that every big and small organization in the world immediately adopt this metric to estimate and track GNT across their organizations and constituencies. Governments and NGOs are quickly adopting it now.

What the whole world wants is a good job.

A GNT annual benchmark report is Gallup's 100-year gift to the world. For the next 100 years, Gallup will provide an annual "State of Net Thriving." This report will give you and the world a common metric and a common language to benchmark and share best practices.

Net thriving teams build new businesses and customers. They build cities and neighborhoods. They build parks and children's museums. They build friends and families. They build better governments. They get up in the morning and build things all day.

How do we build net thriving teams? One life at a time.

Our organization's founder, Dr. George Gallup (1901-1984), said, "There are 5 billion ways to lead a life, and we should study them all."

This is the moment to study them all.

In 2020, our society concluded that sickness and potential death by a coronavirus must be stopped at all costs. The United States subsequently shut down a $20+ trillion economy -- bankrupting countless small businesses -- and closed schools. All of this combined to put employees, families and kids in an unimaginable state of uncertainty.

This new state of uncertainty grinds the life out of people a little bit every day.

While the mood of the U.S. and the world remains in free fall, the right place to start reversing that mood is the workplace. One of the single biggest discoveries Gallup has ever made is this: What the whole world wants is a good job. People want a job that uses their God-given strengths every day with a manager who encourages their development. Stress and anxiety are most likely linked to "my job" (or not having a job). "My job" and "my manager" are the two strongest links to net thriving. In this book, we will emphasize and dig deeper into this finding.

Gallup research has revealed five states of wellbeing that we believe will change the world and human development forever. The five key elements of wellbeing are career, social, financial, physical and community -- in that order.

Career wellbeing is first because Gallup finds that this element is the very foundation of "the best possible life." Everything starts there.

In the absence of a good job and career -- which includes heads of households -- there is no net thriving.

The five key elements of wellbeing are career, social, financial, physical and community -- in that order.

We can measure almost every monetary transaction imaginable over a person's lifetime. We know where someone spent their money during their 30,000 days on Earth. But there are few measures of how they experienced those 30,000 days.

It is not that we need to ignore or discontinue classic economic data to track humans. It is that we need to add data on how their lives are going.

The world needs a miracle. That miracle lies within the spirit of humankind. We have found a metric for you to use to track suffering, struggling and thriving -- Gallup Net Thriving. We have found the treatment for you to use -- the five elements of wellbeing.

Use Wellbeing at Work as a guide to improve employees' mental health and build thriving, resilient teams.


Jim Clifton is Chairman of Gallup.

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