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Unhappy workers may reduce global GDP by as much as 9%, Gallup estimates

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN

New York (CNN) — Employees’ negative daily emotions and lack of well-being can ultimately hurt worker engagement – and the economy, according to a new report released this week.

Gallup, in its “State of the Global Workplace,” estimates that low employee engagement costs the global economy $8.9 trillion, or 9% of global GDP.

The report includes findings from its latest annual World Poll, which surveyed 128,278 employees in more than 140 countries last year.

That poll found that roughly 20% of workers globally reported feeling lonely, angry or sad on a daily basis. And 41% on average say they feel stress.

Those most likely to say they feel lonely were younger workers (22%), employees who worked remotely full-time (25%) and those who felt most disengaged on the job (31%).

While work isn’t always the cause of a person’s negative daily emotions, employers should still be concerned. That’s because work can either improve or worsen employees’ well-being.

On the one hand, the Gallup report noted, “when employees find their work and work relationships meaningful, employment is associated with high levels of daily enjoyment and low levels of all negative daily emotions. Notably, half of employees who are engaged at work are thriving in life overall.”

On the other, researchers found that being disengaged at work can negatively affect a person’s wellbeing as much as — or more than — not having a job at all. “Employees who dislike their jobs tend to have high levels of daily stress and worry, as well as elevated levels of all other negative emotions,” they wrote. “On many wellbeing items (stress, anger, worry, loneliness), being actively disengaged at work is equivalent to or worse than being unemployed.”

Engaged managers help workers thrive

The poll found that last year only 23% of employees were engaged at work, unchanged from the year prior. Gallup defines an engaged employee as someone “highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological ‘owners,’ drive performance and innovation, and move the organization forward.”

But those who said they were not engaged rose by 3 percentage points to 62%. These are employees characterized as “psychologically unattached to their work and company. Because their engagement needs are not being fully met, they are putting time but not energy or passion into their work.”

Engagement levels are highest in so-called “best practice” organizations, where three-fourths of managers on average are engaged as well as seven in 10 non-managers, Gallup said. Their best practices include leaders’ emphasizing well-being at work and in life; and putting a high priority on manager hiring and development.

The manager piece of the equation is especially crucial. “[W]hen managers are engaged, employees are more likely to be engaged,” the report said. And, it added, “high-engagement business units are likely to see significantly higher employee wellbeing — as well as higher productivity, profitability and sales — than low-engagement teams.”

Where the most and least stressed workers are

Engagement and well-being results varied in each of the 10 regions covered by Gallup’s poll. The report noted that the United States and Canada, for example, showed the highest percentage of engaged employees (33%) among all the regions studied; and the third highest percentage of thriving employees (53%), behind Australia and New Zealand (60%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (54%).

But the US and Canada also ranked second among employees experiencing daily stress (49%), right behind the Middle East and North Africa (52%).

By contrast, Europe showed the lowest level of employee engagement (13%). South Asia scored lowest in terms of employees described as thriving overall (13%). And countries in post-Soviet Eurasia ranked lowest in terms of daily stress (19%).

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