With quiet quitting, greater emphasis on Emiratization, and employees now being able to compete in a global labor market, the UAE’s recruiters have found themselves in a frantic, and constant race, to scoop up and retain top talent.
Businesses also face a host of external stressors, such as an economic slowdown in Europe, global escalation of inflation and interest rates, and supply-chain disruptions that just won’t quit. In many of these cases, business leaders cannot take remedial action. Externalities are like the weather — often unpredictable, and always uncontrollable. Leaders should focus on the internal factors that they can influence. Which brings us back to talent-building.
If enterprises want to attract the kind of people that will differentiate them in a job seekers market, they must demonstrate their ability to deliver a world class employee experience. An employee-centric culture is key here. Learning habits that instill a laser focus on people — their ambitions, their problems, their achievements, their concerns — is not easy. This focus must go far beyond HR, to reach the boardroom and every rung of management below it, and organisations should commit themselves to prioritising the employee above all else.
An amalgamated “Best Workplaces in Asia” report polled 1 million employees across Asia and the Middle East (including Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE). “Employee culture awareness among leaders” was cited as one of the main drivers for 88% of respondents reporting a positive experience. While this extraordinary feedback is much higher than the 55% global average, it does not mean that the work is done. Four major steps must be undertaken on the journey to becoming an employee-centric enterprise.
- Digital workflows
Gathering information on employees and responding to requests from them must be streamlined. Today’s digital-native customers want self-service. We should remember that those customers are also employees, so their workplace experience should also allow for self-service.
A central app or platform should track and deliver everything from leave requests to health insurance reimbursements. Meanwhile, automation of repetitive tasks such as payroll processing will ensure a reliable outcome for the things that matter most to employees. A US study showed that almost all (93%) employees consider modern technology a top priority when assessing the quality of a workplace.
- Professional development
If talent cannot grow in one workplace, it will move to another. Retention and engagement are predicated on personalised performance evaluation and progression paths. Continuous learning will also empower employees to attain their own goals while contributing to long-term business growth — a win-win.
In the digital era, it only makes sense that a business with ambitions to create an employee-centric workplace should digitise development and training. Employee performance, peer-feedback collation, performance scoring, skill evaluation, and more can be transformed through digital platforms. The very nature of this information-driven development delivers transparency, which can lead to sustainable trust — a valuable commodity for employers that must shop in a job seekers labor market.
Digital performance-management platforms have built up an impressive track-record in accelerating employee growth and boosting engagement. Digital monitoring appeals to both employer and employee for its objectivity and accuracy. But 72% of UAE businesses have yet to implement digital performance-management.
For the sake of employee centricity, digital-based assessment frameworks are a must. Transparency is essential for trust and for productivity. Accountability, likewise. And manual systems simply lack the accuracy required to produce any measurable value, let alone provide real-time insights. When we put these observations together with the fact that digital natives have shown significant resistance to authoritarian environments, we must conclude that digital is the best way forward.
Once all the numbers are in and presented to a millennial or Gen-Z employee in a non-confrontational environment, the way forward can be designed collaboratively. The agreed-upon path can reflect the objectives of both business and employee. Workers that are treated with this level of respect are more likely to be productive and remain with the company.
Today’s employers must cater for employees with a different value set than they had before COVID emerged. Beyond salary, they want consideration and compassion — the basic recognition that they are a human being with hopes and fears and problems to overcome that may lie outside the working environment. Some 56% of UAE employees are looking for their employer to lead the way on work-life balance in a nation whose workers are among the world’s most stressed.
Bayzat data shows a sharp uptick (28% from 2021 to 2022) in the average sick leave requests a UAE company processes. If companies commit to investment in mental-health support for employees, the data strongly suggests a reduction in burnout and absenteeism will follow, along with greater productivity and retention rates.
Of course, the traditional perks are always welcome — retail and gym discounts, special health insurance rates, and the like — but only as part of an overall system that allows employees to reward themselves for a job well done. Again, digital platforms allow smaller businesses to compete with larger ones in the perks arena.
“Experience is everything”
It is noteworthy that the phrase “Experience is everything” used to be something an employer might say to a candidate during an interview, usually followed by the phrase “Sorry, but…”. Nowadays, the phrase is more likely to be implied by the employee who is now in the position to challenge a would-be paymaster on EX matters. Some 92% of organisations are prioritising EX over the next three years so they can become more employee-centric. Are you one of them? If not, are you sure you can afford to take that risk?