66% suffer work toxicity, poor mental health in Gulf countries: study
The UAE is an "early adopter" for adopting well-being as a main target in its national agenda, adding that this can serve as an example of increased engagement and cooperation between employers and employees in other countries across the GCC.
After surveying 4,064 employees in Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar last year for a study on employee health, the McKinsey Health Institute found that 66% of the participants in the four GCC countries reported experiencing poor mental health at work.
One in three reported symptoms of burnout and three-quarters of respondents stated they were happy at work.
According to the report, the UAE is an "early adopter" for adopting well-being as a main target in its national agenda, adding that this can serve as an example of increased engagement and cooperation between employers and employees in other countries across the GCC.
The McKinsey report concluded on a note stressing that better health starts with greater awareness.
Read more: 63% of physicians suffer from extreme burnout just this year: Report
Four individuals agreed to provide the institute with their side of the story.
43-year-old Emma Burdett admitted to having a breakdown due to “horrific” workplace bullying when she worked in a sales in Dubai.
She said: “In one job I was fired on the spot without reason. It completely shattered my confidence and made me question my self-worth. I spent weeks crying, upset, broken, and depressed. The trauma of what had happened resulted in me having a breakdown. That was a really scary time for me and I started to question my existence.”
She believes that gender discrimination and jealousy of her success at work contributed to her experiences, which led her to found a UAE-based business women's network in 2018 called Women in Leadership Deliver also known as Wild, which intends to fight workplace toxicity through the implementation of transformational coaching, wellness, and related events. With its success, it opened a branch last year in Riyadh.
'Not a pretty place'
Bader Shahin, 36, began enduring high levels of stress in Kuwait after his boss would “humiliate” and “undermine” him in front of his coworkers while he worked in marketing. A former bodybuilder, Shahin said he was constantly made fun of and put down, all while being questioned about his work and personality.
Now living in Dubai, Shahin asked: “Why would you seek someone out and then destroy them?” as he added: “I've seen how far a toxic workplace can take someone in their head and it's not a pretty place. It was a case of grinding me down to the point where I had no confidence whatsoever.”
He recalled a time when he collapsed after a disagreement spiraled out of control in the office. “She started shouting at me across the office and my legs just started shaking uncontrollably,” he stated, continuing: “I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore and I fell to my knees. My mental health had really begun to suffer.”
After moving five years ago, he used his experiences to turn them into something positive through his current role as a marketing director at the Arabic mental health platform Ayadi. “Often they’ve been mistreated themselves and they take that anger out on other people.”
'Gossipy work culture'
Caroline Perch, 35, worked at multiple public relations companies in the UAE.
“I left a position because I couldn’t cope with the anxiety anymore,” she said. “I didn’t even have a new job to go to. I just knew that keeping a job wasn’t worth the cost to my mental health.”
“Gossipy” office culture and personal grudges were things she had to tackle daily, adding that she witnessed employees being “frogmarched” out of the office (forcing someone to walk forward with their hands behind their backs) after being fired on the spot.
“Toxic isn’t the word to describe some of the offices I worked in,” she said. “There were times in meetings where people wouldn’t even look at me or acknowledge that I had spoken, purely because I had ideas that they didn’t agree with."
Read next: World Mental Health Day: Self-care is important, and so are you
She is currently being interviewed for jobs in the UK and says: “It’s definitely had a lasting effect on me and the most important thing for me now is workplace culture,” she said. “Now I ask about staff turnover rates, staff retention rates, benefits for staff, mental health initiatives.”
'Drawing the boundaries and leaving'
Heather Broderick, 42, ditched her career as a teacher and became a workplace culture consultant and UAE life coach after enduring toxicity first-hand.
She claims that incompetent school leaders, alongside no growth opportunities and lack of respect, contributed to her decision and she currently encourages all of her clients to do the same by putting their well-being first.
“Life here is expensive and people put up with toxic workplaces in order to give themselves or their family the life they need away from home,” she said, commenting: “I learned that not only is health more important, but the move and courage to take the risk and leave could be the one thing that changes everything in your life for the better.”
She expressed that communication is key when facing issues like these, as "we can tell so much about a person when they are confronted."
"If things do not change, I always recommend drawing that boundary and leaving.”