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Why are so many people in GCC unhappy at work these days?

According to a new survey, one in three GCC citizens experienced burnout symptoms, higher than the global average.

Why are so many people in GCC unhappy at work these days?
[Source photo: Pankaj Kirdatt/Fast Company Middle East]

Employee well-being is a challenge, especially post-pandemic. Perhaps mental health has become a new pandemic, and the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and distress have been high among GCC employees.

According to the latest McKinsey Health Institute (MHI) survey, compared to the global average of one in four, one in three GCC citizens report having experienced burnout symptoms.

Compared to employees internationally, the GCC respondents report an intention to leave their jobs more than twice as frequently (36%, compared with 16%). 

Although there is a significant attrition rate worldwide due to employees not feeling valued, several GCC-specific variables may escalate the desire to leave. The report states that the need for sponsorship or competition for local talent are two changeable elements that are region-specific.

Furthermore, the report states that about 66% of GCC respondents have faced at least one mental health difficulty at some point in their lives. This is proportional to physical health issues, of which more than two-thirds also report at least one symptom.


While mental well-being at work has been the prime issue for companies for a long time, in general, workers who report high amounts of toxic conduct are more likely to feel burnout, increasing their intention to leave.

According to the survey, GCC employees are seven times more likely to express burnout symptoms than the average worker globally, who is eight times more likely to report highly toxic conduct at work.

A few weeks ago, the World Economic Forum included this issue on its agenda, noting that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion yearly in lost productivity.

“According to the data, toxic culture is the single largest predictor of resignation during the Great Attrition and ten times more predictive than compensation alone. When countries and organizations invest in health and well-being, productivity gains are yielded (and the best talent can be attracted and retained). It can be a true competitive advantage,” says Mischa Zielke, Partner, McKinsey & Company, who leads MHI in the region.


More than half of workers—55.7%—reported having encountered highly toxic behavior at work. Additionally, local respondents had higher sadness, anxiety, discomfort, burnout, and physical health issues than expats.

However, the report suggests employers at three levels—organizational, team, and individual—can take proactive and reactive measures to enhance employee health and well-being in the GCC.

The report states that governments are crucial in promoting health and happiness as well as establishing the conditions necessary for society to advance and for organizations to function.

Talking about how employers can make employee well-being a priority, Zielke says, “Make the topic a strategic priority. What can’t be measured can’t be managed: First, start with a diagnosis. Understanding the baseline can help you choose where to prioritize. Embed well-being metrics and ensure a close linkage to employee performance and organizational outcomes. Relentlessly track progress over time.”

“Drive culture and leadership behavior. Instill a culture of inclusiveness and belonging. Drive compassionate leadership throughout the organization. Enable a sustainable work model, re-engineer the office spaces, for example. Provide individuals with the tools required to feel supported,” Zielke adds. 

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