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Wellbeing Declines in the Middle East and North Africa

Wellbeing Declines in the Middle East and North Africa

by Faith Gaines

Story Highlights

  • The pandemic delivered a major blow to wellbeing in the MENA region
  • Unemployment and negative emotions rose during COVID-19
  • Leaders can take action to improve wellbeing and employee engagement

As the coronavirus spread across the globe, it became clear that the world's people were all in the same storm, but not the same boat. Gallup's State of the Global Workforce: 2021 Report proves it: 54% of the people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) said the coronavirus situation affected their lives "a lot." The global average is 45%. No other region reported being affected as much as the MENA region.

The impact of the coronavirus hit every element of people's wellbeing -- career, financial, physical, social and community -- but in the MENA region, its hardest punch according to respondents was economic. Over half, 54%, of those with jobs at the time of the pandemic reported working fewer hours and 23% lost their job or business. Almost half, 48%, of those employed at the time of the pandemic lost pay as employers cut wages to stay afloat. Though working men were much more likely to lose income or a job than women (54% vs. 37%, respectively) -- which tracks with the greater proportion of men than women in the local workforce -- age didn't seem to affect who lost wages at work as generations were affected at equal rates.

In general, to what extent has your own life been affected by the [insert local term for coronavirus] situation?
Rank Region A lot
1 Middle East and North Africa 54
2 United States and Canada 50
3 South Asia 49
4 Sub-Saharan Africa 46
5 Latin America and the Caribbean 45
6 Southeast Asia 42
7 Eastern Europe 37
8 East Asia 37
9 Western Europe 36
10 Commonwealth of Independent States 33
11 Australia and New Zealand 22
Gallup World Poll, 2020

Globally, Gallup's World Poll found substantial increases in experiences of sadness, worry and stress among workers employed for an employer during 2020. Employees in the MENA region reported the world's highest rates of sadness (35%, up eight percentage points from 2019). Worry also increased (46%, up five points from 2019), and half (50%) said they were stressed "a lot" during the previous day.

At the country level, three years of data were aggregated to make the sample sizes large enough to report. There were meaningful differences in Lebanon, with workers reporting the highest increases in sadness (32%, up 10 points from 2017-2019), stress (58%, up seven points from 2017-2019) and anger (35%, up eight points from 2017-2019).

Negative Emotions in the Middle East and North Africa
Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?
Sadness Worry Stress
% % %
Iraq 43 52 51
Iran 42 57 51
Turkey 35 40 64
Lebanon 32 49 58
Morocco 29 45 42
Egypt 29 45 52
Libya 28 40 42
Bahrain 26 35 40
United Arab Emirates 25 36 42
Tunisia 25 56 59
Kuwait 24 38 43
Palestinian Territories 24 45 50
Saudi Arabia 21 35 35
Israel 17 36 35
Algeria 16 40 31
Yemen 11 32 38
2020 findings are three-year rolling averages for countries listed
Gallup World Poll, 2020

Looking Ahead: Employee Engagement and Wellbeing Opportunities

As recovery from COVID-19 continues, a focus on health and wellbeing are first-order priorities in the MENA region. Gallup estimates that poor wellbeing costs businesses $20 million of additional lost opportunity for every 10,000 workers globally.

Though business leaders can significantly affect all the elements of wellbeing for individuals and for teams in their organizations, the element they can have the most direct impact on is their employees' career wellbeing.

Arguably the most important of all wellbeing elements in the workplace, career wellbeing is so fundamental that "unemployment might be the only major life event from which people do not fully recover within five years," said Jim Harter, Gallup Chief Scientist of workplace management and wellbeing practices and coauthor of Wellbeing at Work. That means unemployment can take a greater personal toll than marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of a spouse.

Gallup researchers find that leaders around the world can best support employees' career wellbeing by coaching to their strengths, connecting them to the organization's mission and purpose, and focusing on employee engagement. However, the State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report found that 84% of MENA employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged. Embracing the untapped potential across the region in increasing engagement or focusing on individual career wellbeing is critical to meeting private and public-sector organizational outcomes across the region.

Higher life evaluations and wellbeing are positively associated with productivity, innovation, and safety and reduce disengagement, shrinkage, and healthcare costs. The faster leaders boost employee engagement and wellbeing, the faster they will create a more prosperous future for the region's workers and businesses.

What can leaders do to improve wellbeing in the workplace?

  1. Define and measure it: You can't manage -- or improve -- what you don't measure. Organizations need a shared definition of wellbeing that can be continuously audited to demonstrate effectiveness. Organizations should review these metrics on an ongoing basis and keep only what is working.
  2. Develop internal capability: People managers build and sustain cultures of wellbeing, but few have been taught how. It is important to develop managers, especially as more employees return to the workplace so that managers can model and cascade the behaviors most connected with increasing wellbeing.
  3. Connect your wellbeing and engagement strategy: Gallup research has shown that wellbeing enhances the benefits of employee engagement. Employees who are engaged and have high wellbeing are more resilient in the presence of change, more likely to report excellent performance in their job and less likely to quit.

Make high-performance, engagement and wellbeing essential to your culture:


Faith Gaines is an Executive Director of Consulting at Gallup.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

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