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Keeping the employees motivated is central to the success of a company, so managers don't hesitate to say words of praise or show recognition to their staff. But employers need to do more than just utter words of encouragement to keep their employees stoked for success.

If a recent study is to be believed, companies need to ensure that everyone gets paid what they deserve, to boost the morale and productivity of the employees.

According to Mercer's "What's Working" research, Gulf employees are concerned about the lack of fair pay in their organisation.

The study, which included nearly 30,000 workers in 17 markets including the GCC, showed that workers in the region are "15 per cent less positive" than workers in Europe and the US about being paid fairly when compared to others performing a similar job.

"A figure that organisations must make note of is that workers in the GCC feel less positive when asked about their feelings surrounding fair pay for performance, compared to views on the same topic held by their European counterparts," says Mercer partner Larisa Muravska, who heads the company's human capital business in the region.

The study covered employees of more than 30 nationalities from across the Americas to Asia and much of central Europe, and included a range of sectors ranging from retail, telecoms and automotive to banking and resources.

A lack of fair salary is an emotive issue, especially at a time when a lot of people are under financial strains. Letecia, who's struggling to make ends meet with a barely Dh6,000 monthly salary, is planning to leave her job, saying she deserves more.

Letecia has been with her company for more than six years. She has seen the volume of her work doubled, yet her salary has barely moved. "I deserve a higher pay than my colleagues who have the same position as mine because I do more work than them.

"The problem is, my company doesn't stick to my job description, they keep adding extra work without adjusting my salary. This is not fair and it's causing me undue stress," she says.

Employees in this market are often left in the dark as to how the management determines their salary package or whether they are eligible for bonuses. There are also suggestions that payments in the Gulf are structured differently compared to other countries and that the colour of one's passport plays a key role.

Other factors play

"Our experience and our studies show that employees in the Gulf are often unclear about how compensation is calculated and allocated, especially when it comes to allowances, benefits and variable pay," explains Tom O'Byrne, Mercer principal heading the firm's Middle East market development efforts.

Dr Michael Burchell is the partner and director of Great Place to Work Institute UAE, which seeks to help companies address issues of perceived workplace inequity. He notes that pay structures in the UAE are slanted, while salaries in the US are usually determined by a series of factors including the knowledge, skills and abilities required to do the job, supervisory span, level of independence in the job and impact.

"Salaries are skewed in the UAE because compensation is based not only on position responsibilities. Other factors such as nationality and education are often taken into consideration. When extraneous factors are considered as part of the compensation equation, then real or perceived unfairness develops," Burchell tells Gulf News.

Burchell observes that many positions in the UAE are paid very well compared to similar positions in other countries, although the cost of living in the country is high compared to the same countries.

"When taking everything into account, pay in the UAE is not significantly better or worse than pay in other countries of similar sized economies and growth prospects. Pay tends to be more of an issue in companies that are not good workplaces, or with lower levels of trust."

Andrew McNeilis, managing director of Talent2 Europe, Middle East and Africa, says that in his 31 years of work, he has yet to meet anybody who "complains of earning too much."

He points out that expatriate workers move to the UAE by choice, not because someone forces them to. And when it's time to review their career moves, they always take into account a number of factors, and pay is only one of them.

"Only the individual taking a salary can decide whether it is a fair deal --- and much of that is down to the quality of their salary and benefits negotiation. Given the 62 per cent of taxation in parts of Europe — if surveys are showing that in the UAE fair pay tops the concerns of expatriate workers, why do people stay?"

He brushes aside comments that passports determine a person's salary. The size of one's paycheque depends on skills and global geographic pay parity. "Any business is going to pay a premium for talent with relatively rare skills, high experience and expertise."

"The employer will have to offer a salary and career opportunity that will entice that individual out of their country of origin. If the management can identify two equally qualified people who are equally experienced, then it is not unreasonable that the management will look to the candidate who is the best value for money. That is not the employer's fault. The disparity lies within what the host nation is prepared to pay its own talent pool."

Gary Dodds, vice-president for human resources at Marriott, which was recently named one of the top ten companies to work for in the UAE, says they take into account a lot of factors when fixing salaries to ensure each employee is paid fairly. These include annual performance reviews, internal and external job benchmarking and competitive surveys.

Motivation needs to be changed

Employers in the GCC must do more to find out what makes their employees motivated, especially now that many are contemplating leaving their jobs.

The results of Mercer's global "What's Working" research showed that an increasing percentage of employees reported they were seriously considering leaving their companies, with the highest figures recorded by new joiners and those just starting their working lives.

While workers in the region are concerned they are not paid fairly, they also feel less positive about how their employers review their performance.

The results of the study only indicate that the usual focus on performance, reward and career development in organisations no longer serves to engage employees in ways that truly influence business performance.

"The findings are a clear signal to organisations across the Gulf that they need to know more about what makes their workforces tick," says Tom O'Byrne of Mercer.

"Only when employers know the how to recognise and influence engagement can they really use this to influence improvement in business results."

O'Byrne says that when it comes to motivating staff, the key really is to treat employees with respect.

"Companies must act now because the talent market is heating up. Good workers have options. Understanding the dynamics of your employee's mind is the first step that will lead to the development of innovative ideas to improve engagement, performance and productivity."