Once bitten twice shy, companies are now more careful than ever that their bottom lines remain healthy enough so they can stay in business.
Managers have implemented post-recession strategies, from restructuring and downsizing to cost-cutting programmes, and have become obsessed with maximising staff performance.
This new focus, however, has created an atmosphere of discontent and frustration among many employees.
Results of the recent Towers Watson Global Workforce study, which surveyed 1,001 employees from large to midsize organisations in the UAE, revealed that workers in the country are clocking in more work hours than ever, as companies try to do more with less.
About two-fifths of the respondents said they are experiencing “excessive pressure” at work. A fifth of them feel the amount of work expected of them has become “unreasonable”, while a quarter of them said there are not enough people to get things done. A further 37 per cent are tired of constant organisational changes.
With all the work pressure they go through, only a small proportion of employees (37 per cent) agree that their company allows them to have a “healthy balance between work and personal life” and over one in three (35 per cent) said their managers or supervisors are sincerely interested in their well-being.”
“The emerging image of the UAE employee is of one who is willing to work hard, yet is more anxious, frustrated by obstacles to getting the work done, feeling unsupported by their organisations and weary of change,” the report” said.
There’s only one major reason behind all of these. Companies are now focused on getting the most of their staff and improving profits, to avoid a repeat of the losses incurred during the financial crisis.
“Now that GCC companies are back in growth mode, they want to avoid the excesses of the previous boom where hiring bodies was done to meet business managers’ persistent demand, irrespective of whether the people really had the skills and competencies or the potential to meet expanding business requirements,” said Jim Matthewman, lead consultant for organisation effectiveness at Towers Watson.
“Once bitten twice shy, the new management teams want to make sure they maximise the potential of existing workforces by raising capability and productivity before agreeing to new hires.”
Employees are not only taking a hit from downsizing decisions, they are the least happy with their bosses. The study found that 23 per cent of UAE employees are utilising their energy to overcome substantial obstacles to get things done, but less than half (49 per cent) feel they have their supervisor’s support in doing so.
Natasha, a Russian expatriate who works as an executive for a boutique company in Dubai, is frustrated over a “biased” work culture. Their organizational structure requires that she shares her client list with a manager, but the colleague “unfairly dumps” all the work on her.
“The manager, who is not my boss, receives bigger salary [and] doing less work … Why not cut the chain and just remove the [manager] and allow [us] executives to do all the work since we manage well. Just keep the head, which is the director and save on expenses and stress,” she pointed out.
According to Hazel Cowling, partner and consultant at biz-group, excessive work pressure and resulting discontent among employees is a “global” issue and is not unique to the UAE or region.
She said companies have been forced to crunch resources and try to get more things done for less due to major economic changes. There is also a “recurring challenge” for organisations to adapt to change.
“Constant change is now a given in the 21st century and organisations have no choice, but to evolve with their industry in order to survive,” said Cowling.
This scenario, she added, presents two key problems for leaders — tapping into the latent intelligence of each person in their team to get more done with less and implementing change in a way that creates excitement in the workplace as opposed to opposition.
However, what employees should understand is that tough decisions have to be made in order to save an organisation and keep their jobs. Oftentimes, the option of leaving is even worse, given that the labour market, according to Matthewman, has become incredibly tight, especially in sectors such as oil and gas, medicare, telecoms, hi-tech and fast moving consumer goods.
“When an organisational manager is faced with a number crunch, he/she has to make some tough decisions. In times like this, it is up to the retained team members to step up their game and do more for the same amount of remuneration, or maybe even for less, not only to secure their own positions, but also to showcase their commitment to the organisaation and their colleagues, and collectively alleviate the situation,” said Sharon Pereira, who manages a team of workers in Dubai.
Workplace pressure may be a grim fact of office life, but it doesn’t mean too much of it can’t interfere with productivity. The 2012 Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson warned that the state of hard work among employees in the UAE can “lead to burnout absenteeism and turnover”.
By building a culture of health and well-being, promoting career advancement and rewarding performance, among other things, organisations can re-energise their staff and inspire them to helping the company achieve its targets.
“Leaders and managers have much at their disposal to turn things around,” the report said.
The report suggests that businesses and company leaders implement the following strategies:
Companies should strive to get performance management right to achieve or exceed business targets. “We recommend that organisations focus on the most senior roles first and then, over time, cascade performance management down the organisation,” said the report.
Focus on career advancement programmes
Companies should create a transparent and career-advancement programme that enables their staff to see potential career paths and be aware of the skills and competencies required to achieve their career goals. There should also be opportunities for meaningful lateral moves, to retain top talent and ensure succession.
Your senior staff and middle management need to have the time, training and tools to inspire their team members and make it clear what is expected of them. It is necessary that staff members are motivated all the time, so make motivation an everyday part of your company culture.
Create an atmosphere of innovation
Make your employees feel they are an important part of the organisation. Encourage them to actively participate in the future direction of the business and suggest solutions to problem areas.