Organisations in the Middle East are swiftly adopting digital transformation across various industries, laying the groundwork for a future of innovation and growth. Even an executive survey by PwC emphasised the necessity for workers in the Middle East to acquire new skills aligning with AI capabilities. However, recent studies covering Middle Eastern countries, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), found that workers in the region are actively seeking better compensation and benefits, as well as opportunities for career progression and a more positive work culture in the post-pandemic era.
Converging on a common point, these studies reveal that workers in the Middle East are willing to switch jobs for better benefits, career growth, and corporate values, even at the same level of pay, emphasising the need for organisations to ensure they offer these aspects to strengthen employee relations, retain talent for long-term success, and transform into a workplace of choice as the world is rapidly transforming with new technologies.
How Middle East organisations can strengthen ties with their employees?
Addressing future challenges requires adopting forward-thinking solutions to tackle these issues in a timely manner, averting potential consequences. According to a study by Zurich International, 42 percent workers in the UAE switched jobs for flexible working benefits, while 48 percent workers in KSA prioritised a 'clear career growth path' along with a better salary package.
These insights emphasise the following factors for organisations in the Middle East concerning employee retention:
- Better salary package
- Improved employee benefits
- Career development/growth
- Flexible working
- Enhanced work culture
- Size and location of the organisation
Similarly, insights from the 2024 Salary Guide UAE by RH Talent Solutions reveal that workers are willing to leave their jobs in the next 6-12 months to secure salary boosts or better benefits.
Identifying these focus areas is essential to understanding people and work priorities in the coming months. Therefore, organisations in the Middle East region are focusing on these areas to leverage emerging technologies and boost employee experience.
How to leverage technology for boosting employee relations in the Middle East?
Here are some effective ways to harness technology and improve employee experience for a better and more satisfying work environment for employees over an extended period. Why? Because emerging tech has proven successful in enhancing employee engagement and workplace experience in recent years.
#1 Tech-enabled wellness programmes - More than one-third of employees in the UAE and KSA appear dissatisfied with the current employee benefits package, as highlighted by this survey. Therefore, workers are more likely to turn to organisations that offer better benefits, including savings, life insurance, critical illness cover, child education allowance, dependent cover, as well as financial well-being. Lea Farhat of WTW added, “employers normally tend to implement a total rewards package without fully understanding employee needs. By recognising employee needs, they could potentially be saving costs and devising an optimised rewards package for their employees.” In the post-pandemic era, employees are prioritising their overall well-being, covering physical, mental, and financial aspects. This presents an opportunity for employers to distinguish themselves.
Therefore, organisations in the Middle East region need to offer holistic well-being benefits in addition to retirement/workplace savings and employee insurance/medical cover. To overcome challenges in introducing new wellness and benefits programs, such as high costs or regulations, they can create a platform where employees can customise/select their benefits according to their budget and requirements. For example, New Relic offered free access to Ginger, an on-demand emotional support tool for employees and their dependents, as well as Carrot, a family planning service extending to employees and their families. Offering benefits and wellness programs through digital tools and platforms also makes it easier to monitor usage and structure a benefits strategy effectively in the future.
#2 Tech in Talent retention - Keeping talented employees is a smart way for organisations to not only build value for their employees but also ensure long-term success for the company. In simpler terms, holding onto talented people is a key part of making the organisation successful and creating value for everyone involved. The organisations particularly in UAE, as they are facing high employee turnover, while KSA mostly has a regional workforce, prompting organisations to make investments in the overall development and well-being of their employees. “The UAE is diversifying its industry dependency, while Saudi Arabia is introducing technology to attract large MNCs and global companies," shared Zubin Zack while interacting with People Matters.
Explaining how technologies can be leveraged for employee retention, Zubin shared an example, “Organisations first need to identify the issue, collect data, and then conduct exit interviews and internal surveys to comprehend the reasons behind employee exits. Upon analysing the data, organisations can pinpoint three key areas for improvement in the subsequent survey. For instance, investing in first-line manager training to develop first-time managers who may be contributing to attrition.”
#3 Tech in employee engagement - Training and feeling valued by the employer is important for employees to feel empowered within their workplace. Feeling valued at work is linked to overall health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction and motivation, all the things that lead to a healthy and productive relationship between employer and employee. In the UAE, 67% of the surveyed employees stated that they “feel their employer supports them in professional development to acquire new skills,” highlighted the report by Zurich.
Couchbase’s Fidelma Butler says, “Having a well-planned employee experience technology strategy is essential to attracting the best digital natives coming into the labour market. Investing in solutions that enable cross-functional collaboration, streamline decision-making, uplevel data insights, power in-the-moment learning and strengthen an engaged, diverse learning culture will cultivate an environment that addresses the next generation’s needs.”
#4 Tech-enabled upskilling opportunities - To align with company goals, it's important to prepare the employees with future-ready skills. About 29% workers in EMEA are willing to adopt AI for streamlining minor and daily tasks to enhance their productivity, according to a UKG survey. Similarly, Middle East CEOs also believe adopting AI will lead to improved work efficiency. Therefore, the organisations need to offer training programmes to their workforce leveraging new technologies so they can learn future-ready skills. For example, FedEx Express APAC-MEA, created learning platforms to build a digital-first mindset and capabilities across the AMEA workforce, introducing on-demand virtual academies for workers at different levels and aptitudes covering topics from soft skills and practical skills.
Manulife launched the PURSUIT programme, a "one-stop shop" digital platform for employees that provides a "Netflix for learning" experience. This digital learning tool enables employees to personalise and curate learning paths at their own pace and based on their interests, allowing them to access modules anytime on their smart devices.
Another successful example shared by Yenny Wong of New Relic involves empowering employees through a multi-layered approach, wherein employees can enrol in instructor-led virtual classrooms and curated programs based on action-oriented plans of leaders in the organisation.
#5 Tech-driven employee recognition - The Middle East region is only now beginning to pick up in terms of recognition trends, with companies investing in diversifying their employee base and growth across various industries. The type of recognition trends is similar to those in developed countries but at a slightly slower pace. Currently, there is a trend towards using technology to engage remote and offline employees, taking inspiration from best practices in the West or other developed countries. As Zubin told People Matters “Recognition initiatives are widely accepted in the Middle East, often measured using transactional metrics.”
Encouraging employee involvement in decision-making processes, implementing robust recognition and rewards systems, and maintaining a diligent focus on performance management contribute significantly to enhancing engagement and productivity, says Yenny.
Sharing an example of how organisations can leverage technology to support employee recognition, Nanang Chalid said, “Digitalising 'Thank you' cards and providing platforms for workers to appreciate and recognise their colleagues resulted in a 44% increase in the 'sense of belongingness,' establishing a thriving and resilient work culture. Furthermore, a technology product like Spot Work can help leaders engage with their employees, creating a work culture that values and celebrates the efforts and contributions of each team member.”