Companies that are known as a happy place to work attract top talent Image Credit: Shutterstock

Considering most of us spend the majority of our waking hours in an office of some sort, it really matters how we feel about our employer and workplace. Several studies have shown our feelings towards our job has a definite effect on our physical health and mental well-being.


Feeling valued

An extensive 2012 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that employees who feel valued are more likely to report better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction and motivation, compared to those who do not feel valued by their employers. Among employees who felt valued, just one in five (21 per cent) said they intended to look for a new job in the next year versus 50 per cent of those who said they do not feel valued.

There has been a push in the UAE to improve standards in this area, as seen by the rise of organisations such as Great Place to Work, a global research, training and consultancy firm that recognises the best workplaces in more than 50 countries.

“There is a growing understanding among business leaders in the UAE that workplace culture has become a significant competitive advantage for companies to attract and retain top talent,” says Maha Zaatari, Managing Director, the UAE. “Leading organisations are

continuously monitoring their employees’ workplace experience and looking for innovative ways to make incremental improvements.”

The recently concluded Top 20 Companies to Work for in the UAE awards ceremony, held at the Zabeel Saray hotel on the Palm Jumeirah, lauded the firms that have gone above and beyond creating an inclusive, exciting and rewarding workplace.

An interesting common thread running through the companies that won was the sense of camaraderie and team spirit, as well as the willingness of the management to actively help individuals shine in their roles, whatever their level.

So what are the characteristics that make a company a joy to be part of? See our top 10 factors below.

1. Reasonable salaries

Although money isn’t everything (so they say), knowing you are at least getting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work helps massively with feelings of self-worth. Good companies will commit to paying every employee a living wage and where possible include regular bonuses and incentives. Business owners who think in terms of pure profit soon witness resentment from within the company and its bad effects.

2. Good employer-manager relationships

Zaatari, describes what makes a healthy workplace. “In my opinion I think probably the most important thing that makes employees happy, or not, is the relationship they have with their line manager,” she says. “Does that manager trust their own team? Are they credible? Do they take their workers’ opinions seriously? If you don’t have good leaders willing to engage properly with staff, then that drives employees out of the door.”

3 Cultural variety

It may not seem obvious but having diversity in a workplace can be enriching and adds a wider range of skills and viewpoints to the mix. “Apart from a great company culture and values, the diversity and multiculturalism of a company’s employees make all the difference,” says Rachel Lewis, a PR executive based in Dubai. “The work environment becomes much more unique and interesting to be in. Having access to cultures from around the world and being exposed to different ideologies can encourage one to think outside the box in various scenarios.”

4. Great team spirit

Team spirit is an enthusiastic attitude towards working or playing together with other people as a team and it is worth its weight in gold. “Mostly what makes a workplace stand out is when it has people who work, eat and drink as a unit,” says Purva Grover, a media professional in Dubai. “It is the seniors and bosses who need to ensure smiles are defined by not only promotions and pay hikes, but by giving everyone a chance to share an idea, voice an opinion and enjoy in the successes and even feel the pressures too.”

5. Time to shine

Business experts say savvy companies will encourage employees to set aside time to focus without interruption on their most important priorities, including long-term projects and more strategic and creative thinking. Ideally, they should have a designated amount of time to pursue projects they are especially passionate about, which have the potential to add value to the company.

6. Everything is above-board

In a country like the UAE where the majority of employees are expats, workers rely on their employer to be honest and transparent when it comes to rights and legal issues. From ensuring people have medical insurance (which is mandatory), housing allowance (where applicable), reasonable working hours and proper annual leave to the thornier issue of employers holding on to passports (which is not allowed), doing things above-board is essential. Indeed, companies that don’t do things by the book risk serious trouble with the authorities.

7. Positive vibe

Why do some companies have wannabe employees lining up at the door? It’s not all about the money, says Zaatari. “People want to take pride in the place they work, no matter what their position,” she says. “What makes a company like Google, for example, so appealing internationally is its reputation for having an amazing culture. It’s simple; if you are known for offering a happy and positive place to work, you will attract lots of talent.”

8. Zero tolerance for bullying

Independent surveys by the Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby International in the US found that 27 per cent of workers have experienced bullying and that 69 per cent of the bullies were men.

Corporate bullying was defined as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation and humiliation”. Aside from the obvious ethical necessity to stamp out bullying at any level, an environment saturated by so much misery impacts productivity. Experts agree the onus to ensure the mental well-being of employees lies at the top, with leaders being unwilling to turn a blind eye to spiteful behaviour.

9. Flexible working hours

The move towards flexible working hours, arguably still one of the biggest mental walls for employers to get past, is gathering momentum globally. Zabeen Ahmed, owner of innovation advisory firm Sevia, says intelligent use of technology could help people enjoy their job more and make family life easier to juggle, particularly for working mothers. “Because of the efficiency of online communications, a lot of the companies I speak to are seeing the merits of having employees work from home, if not all the time, at least a few times a week. They have more flexibility, spend less time commuting, feel less boredom, while the employer incurs less costs.”

10. Inspiration

For many people a job is not just a job. It is a career and an opportunity to grow. One man often cited as being the world’s most inspirational boss is Virgin owner Sir Richard Branson. He is quoted as saying: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure if you can do it, say yes, then learn how to do it later. The best advice I could give anyone is to spend your time working on what you are passionate about in life.” Perhaps not everyone can work for a business icon, but being at a place with visionary management can make that nine-to-five thrilling.