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Salaries and perks, plus a load of optimum employee experience possibilities. These make for a good workplace. Image Credit: Shutterstock

It is no secret the UAE’s talent-acquisition professionals are embroiled in a war to onboard the best before they are snapped up by a competing employer. Amid a range of such challenges - from quiet quitting to greater emphasis on Emiratization - HR executives are having to think in increasingly strategic ways.

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 people that will differentiate them in a job-seekers’ market, they must demonstrate an ability to deliver a world-class employee experiences. An employee-centric culture is key.

Learning habits that instil 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. ‘Employee culture awareness among leaders’ was cited as one of the main drivers for 88 per cent of respondents reporting a positive experience. While this extraordinary feedback is much higher than the 55 per cent 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. 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 employees consider latest 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.

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’ labour 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 per cent 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.


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 per cent of UAE employees are looking for their employer to lead the way on work-life balance.

Bayzat data shows a sharp uptick (28 per cent 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 per cent 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?