Stress and loneliness dog African workers, finds Gallup

The survey found significant regional differences in how mental health issues are experienced across Africa.

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Image : Michele Spatari/AFP

Nearly half of employees in sub-Saharan Africa reported significant stress on the previous day and over a quarter suffered from loneliness on the previous day, according to pollster Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report.

In the region 48% report experiencing stress a lot the previous day, marking a two percentage point increase from 2022, compared to the global rate of 41%.

Findings also show that Sub-Saharan Africa has the second-highest regional percentage of employees experiencing loneliness a lot the previous day, at 28%, compared to 22% globally.

Africa fares relatively badly compared to Europe, where 37% suffered significant daily stress and 14% suffered loneliness on the prior day. 75% of Africans are watching for or actively seeking a new job, compared to just 32% of Europeans.

Regional disparities

However, the survey found significant regional differences in how mental health issues are experienced across Africa.

In South Africa, 32% report experiencing stress, compared to 34% in Kenya, 46% in Senegal and 40% in Zambia, which is much higher than the 25% of employees in Zimbabwe.

“There remains a vast potential for workplaces in Africa to address employee engagement and wellbeing, but the diversity of findings confirms that the underlying factors can vary significantly from one country to another,” the report finds.

The regional rate of 28% for those experiencing sadness is higher than the global rate of 22%, but regional differences are profound: in South Africa and Senegal, 20% of employees report experiencing sadness a lot of the previous day, 23% in Kenya do so, 24% in Tanzania, 28% in Zambia, 36% in Gambia and 37% in Togo. A significantly lower 15% report sadness in Mauritius and 16% in Namibia, while Guinea is much higher at 49%.

The report shows that one in five employees in the Sub-Saharan region are engaged at work, compared to the global average of 23%, making Africa the seventh-most-engaged region overall. Employee engagement reflects the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace. 

Again there are regional differences: in South Africa, 29% are engaged; in Tanzania, 31%; and in Kenya, 18%, but Senegal shows a significantly higher rate at 40%. By contrast, the USA and Canada region boasts an engagement rate of 33%.

Overall, the report found that global employee engagement stagnated and employee wellbeing declined in 2023 after multiple years of steady gains.

“The result is that the majority of the world’s employees continue to struggle at work and in life, with direct consequences for organizational productivity,” the report finds.

Gallup estimates that $8.9 trillion is lost in global GDP due to low engagement.

Africa lags in mental health services

Across Africa, more than 116 million people were already estimated to be living with mental health conditions pre-pandemic, according to the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“People with mental health conditions are often facing discrimination and deprivation of their fundamental rights,” says the Africa CDC.

The problems extend beyond the workplace. Compared to the global rate of 34% of employees thriving in their overall lives, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 17% are. Significantly higher than the regional average, 32% are thriving in South Africa and 27% in Senegal, while fewer employees are in Kenya (16%) and Tanzania (14%). Only 8% are thriving in Sierra Leone.

And in many African countries the tools for helping people cope with such issues are lacking. The global annual rate of visits to outpatient mental health facilities is 1051 per 100,000 people, but only about 14 per 100,000 in Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO); 98% of people lack access to mental health care in Sierra Leone, for example.

Africa’s population has increased by 49% over the previous two decades, and will nearly double over the next 30 years, according to the United Nations, putting further strain on access to mental health services.

Africa CDC warns: “In Africa, many mental health conditions have received too little attention and concern by the general public, the general healthcare system, and elected and appointed public policymakers, resulting in inadequate priority being given to these disorders… We call on African member states to invest more in addressing mental health issues in Africa.”

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Adam Saidane