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The World's Workplace Is Broken -- Here's How to Fix It

The World's Workplace Is Broken -- Here's How to Fix It

Story Highlights

  • Globally, workers don't rate work -- or life -- very highly
  • The solution to workplace misery is simple: better management
  • No matter your industry, engaged, thriving employees lead to better business

81,396 hours.

That's how much of life most of us spend working. The only thing we spend more time doing is sleeping.

If we spend so much of life at work, how is life at work going?

According to the world's workers, not well. Gallup finds 60% of people are emotionally detached at work and 19% are miserable.

But is that a surprise, or a statistical explanation of the obvious?

The idea that "work sucks" is everywhere. It's been the subject of ancient philosophers, world leaders, your colleagues and even pop culture. Comedian George Carlin once quipped, "Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar."

Carlin's joke works because it's true -- but workplace misery isn't funny. Being miserable at work can bring more suffering to a person's life than being unemployed.

The False Workplace Proverb

"Find a job that you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work again in your life." This quote is often misattributed to Mark Twain or Confucius.

But regardless of where it came from, the popular adage has a different problem: It's not true.

"Work," according to Oxford Languages, is "activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result." Exerting mental or physical effort to achieve anything is rarely done without stress, worry or even pain.

Business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers.

Nobel laureate and bestselling author Daniel Kahneman once said there were "periods when he worked alone on writing that were 'terrible,' when he felt 'miserable.'" Stress, anxiety and maybe a little pain will always be part of a high-performing job, but those negative emotions cannot be the very soul of someone's job. Yet, that is exactly the work-life experience for the 19% of workers who are actively disengaged.

Ask them, "Did you feel stress yesterday?" -- 59% will say "yes." Ask them, "Did you feel worried yesterday?" -- 56% will say "yes." Ask them, "Did you feel physical pain a lot of the day yesterday?" -- 33% will say "yes." And, "How about anger?" -- 31% will say "yes." These figures are staggering -- and 46% to 83% higher than an engaged person would report.

A Better Way?

The pain from work has caused leaders to invent new ways to get as far from work as possible. Movements to attain "work-life balance," implement four-day workweeks and expand remote work are now everywhere. But it's not just the hours, imbalance or location that leave workers unhappy. It's what's happening at work that makes them miserable.


For example, balance is essential, but it implies a work/life separation. Emotionally compartmentalizing work, or anything in life, is hard. Even if your boss can't call or email you after 5 p.m., you probably haven't recovered from the berating he gave you earlier in the day. It's almost impossible to leave that kind of emotional baggage at work. In a Gallup study in Germany, 51% of actively disengaged workers said job stress caused them to behave poorly with loved ones.

So, what makes a bad job?

In one of the largest studies of burnout, Gallup found the biggest source was "unfair treatment at work." That was followed by an unmanageable workload, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support and unreasonable time pressure.

Those five causes have one thing in common: your boss. Get a bad one and you are almost guaranteed to hate your job. A bad boss will ignore you, disrespect you and never support you. Environments like that can make anyone miserable. A manager's effect on a workplace is so significant that Gallup can predict 70% of the variance in team engagement just by getting to know the boss.

Thriving at Work

Improving life at work isn't rocket science, but the world is closer to colonizing Mars than it is to fixing the world's broken workplaces.

Stakeholder capitalists think they have the solution. Using environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics, they encourage companies to report on their impact on everything from the environment to their workforce. But when it comes to the worker, most ESG reports focus solely on pay and demographics. These are critical, but how do we know if workers are being treated with respect? Or feel cared about?

The real fix is this simple: better leaders in the workplace. Managers need to be better listeners, coaches and collaborators. Great managers help colleagues learn and grow, recognize their colleagues for doing great work, and make them truly feel cared about. In environments like this, workers thrive.


For 79% of workers, this kind of work environment may seem like a pipe dream, but for 21% of workers, it's a reality. They still have days with stress, worry and pain -- but at half the rate as people who are actively disengaged at work. In fact, 95% of people who are thriving at work report being treated with respect all day and 87% report smiling and laughing a lot.

Stakeholder capitalists would love the idea of more respect and care in the workplace, but will shareholder capitalists? "How does this impact the bottom line?" they'd ask. Well, as it turns out, it pays to have thriving workers.

Business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers. Additionally, teams with thriving workers see significantly lower absenteeism, turnover and accidents; they also see higher customer loyalty. The point is: Wellbeing at work isn't at odds with anyone's agenda.

Teams with thriving workers see significantly lower absenteeism, turnover and accidents; they also see higher customer loyalty.

Executives everywhere should want the world's workers to thrive. And helping the world's workers thrive starts with listening to them. Hear what the world's workers have to say about how life at work is going in this year's State of the Global Workplace report.

Learn more about Gallup's findings on global workplace trends:


Jon Clifton is CEO of Gallup. He is the author of Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It.

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