UAE workers
Employers in the UAE are advised to recruit employees through Virtual Labour Market and get internal work permits. Image Credit: Pexels

With so much volatility impacting employers and employees over the past two years, not least the revolutionary shift to remote and hybrid working, it is encouraging that a significant proportion of UAE respondents to our Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 are very satisfied at work – 37 per cent compared with 28 per cent globally and 38 per cent across the Middle East region.

Why do they feel this way?

Our survey shows that employers in the UAE are listening and responding to what their employees need. For example, 63 per cent work flexibly at least half the time, compared with 54 per cent globally. UAE companies are also taking practical steps to address skills shortages with 44 per cent upskilling workers, 38 per cent increasing wages and 34 per cent offering support for physical and mental well-being, and 31 per cent are improving their in-house technology.

Furthermore, UAE companies seem to be ahead of this trend in encouraging openness and to have conversations with co-workers about complex issues affecting the world today, with some 30 per cent of UAE workers having discussed societal issues with colleagues over the past year, in line with the global figure of 29 per cent.

With these results, some 18 per cent of the 522 UAE respondents (out of 52,000 in the global survey) would recommend their employer as a place to work, compared with 13 per cent globally. However, in a tight labour market, employers cannot afford to sit back; 32 per cent of UAE employees are extremely or very likely to look for a new job this year, compared with 30 per cent across the Middle East and 19 per cent globally. This trend was particularly strong amongst the Gen Z and millennial respondents who made up the majority of our survey group.

In search of purpose - and a raise

The two factors that topped the list for seeking a new role include fair financial reward for work, cited by 42 per cent of respondents (with 25 per cent of UAE employees extremely likely to ask for a raise this year, ahead of the global average of 13 per cent), and finding a job that is fulfilling, also cited by 42 per cent. Not far behind was the desire to ‘truly be myself at work’, identified by 40 per cent of respondents.

There is also a strong desire among the young workforce in our region to acquire the skills they will need as the digital transformation of the economy accelerates. Some 41 per cent of UAE respondents are concerned their job could be replaced by technology, ahead of the global average of 30 per cent. And this is concerning,- 51 per cent said they had limited opportunities to learn from colleagues with advanced technical or digital skills.

UAE employers are taking action to address the skills shortage by investing in upskilling. However, there is a clear opportunity to go further to both solve their own challenges in finding the top talent and meet the wishes of the existing workforce to increase their skills and job satisfaction.

Despite the above-average proportion of people working flexibly in the UAE, there is also still a gap between employee and employer expectations. For example, it is expected 48 per cent of employers would prefer their staff to be at the workplace in person most or all of the time a year from now, whereas only 37 per cent of employees prefer those options. Rather, 39 per cent would prefer to work remotely most or all of the time.

How to address this gap in expectations, and both manage and fairly recognise workers in an increasingly hybrid world, is the one of the most pressing issues employers are facing today.

Building trust and transparency

Building trust is key to answering these challenges. Fortunately, when it comes to trust, UAE employers outperform the global response with 29 per cent of respondents being extremely confident that their employer is transparent about workers’ health and safety (21 per cent globally), while 25 per cent are extremely confident that the company they work for is transparent about its impact on the environment (16 per cent globally), and 25 per cent believe that the organisation is addressing diversity and inclusion at work (17 per cent globally).

Employers need to address the hopes and fears of their employees and continue to build on this solid foundation by empowering staff to develop the digital skills, achieve the sense of purpose they seek and manage the rapid pace of change and disruption.

By listening closely to their most valuable asset - their workforce-employers can create a culture of openness, opportunity and adaptability, where both employees and employers alike can reach their full growth potential.