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Can Great Management Improve Mental Health?

Can Great Management Improve Mental Health?

“People’s mental wellbeing has been worsening. In the last 10 years the number of people expressing stress, sadness, anxiety, anger or worry has been on the rise, reaching its highest levels since the Gallup surveys began.” --2023/2024 Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme


The global deterioration of mental health is concerning -- some worry we’re spiraling out of control. At the beginning of the U.N. General Assembly meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “Our world is becoming unhinged.”

Perhaps he’s being overly pessimistic. After all, we’re living in the best time in human history. As Harvard professor Steven Pinker famously stated, “Human progress is an observable fact.”

But what if both are true? If humanity’s mental health is rapidly declining during a golden era of progress and prosperity, it would present one of the most fascinating paradoxes of our time.

Even if our collective mood hasn’t soured to historic proportions, it’s soured enough to impact our daily lives. Rising stress is causing a rapid increase in incivility at work, according to Georgetown University professor Christine Porath. This is particularly worrying considering we spend most of our lives working, second only to sleeping.


In the latest State of the Global Workplace report, 41% of employees report experiencing “a lot of stress.” Yet stress varies significantly depending on how the organizations are run. Those working in companies with bad management practices (actively disengaged employees) are 60% more likely to be stressed than those working in environments with good management practices (engaged employees). In fact, experiencing "a lot of stress” is reported 30% more frequently by employees working under bad management than by the unemployed.


Leaders know workplace stress is a problem -- they’ve seen the data, heard it from their colleagues and experienced it themselves. A quarter of leaders feel burned out often or always, and two-thirds feel it at least sometimes. Many are trying to address it, but often in ineffective ways.

Popular solutions include wellbeing apps or stress management training. Yet recent research by the University of Oxford finds “little evidence in support of any benefits from these interventions with even some small indication of harm.” Mindfulness apps or meditation can be effective for individuals, but they can be counterproductive in workplaces with poor management or a negative culture.

In short, a meditation app can’t fix a bad manager.

So, what works better? According to the Oxford study, “organisation-level initiatives such as improvements in scheduling change, management practices, staff resources or tailored job design.” In other words, organizations need better management practices.

The global workplace can play a significant role in addressing the world’s mental health crisis. As detailed in this year’s State of the Global Workplace: 2024 Report, transforming our management approaches is critical for alleviating many of the unnecessary stressors in the world of work.

To learn more about Gallup workplace science and the latest trends in the global workforce, including engagement data in your own country, download the State of the Global Workplace report now.



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

Ryan Pendell contributed to this article.

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