According to the MetLife findings, 75 per cent of UAE employers agree that benefits enable productivity, and 79 per cent want to shift costs of customized benefits to employees. A Image Credit: Agency

Dubai: Salary hikes — and regular ones at that — may be the best way to get employees to stay on.

But in the UAE more of them are just as likely to favour one employer over another based on the benefits, such as what they get on their medical insurance package.

In fact, 47 per cent of employees are likely to stay put at an employer — if they see some improvement in their benefits package, while 71 per cent said they would do so if they see an improvement in their salary.

Forty-three per cent would do so if they were assured of job security, according to a new survey by the US insurance giant MetLife.

Staff turnover and productivity

At a moment of acute crisis in the jobs marketplace, what employers can promise and deliver matters even more.

“High staff turnover in UAE businesses — much higher than global averages — is hurting productivity,” the survey notes.

“Fifty-six per cent of employees in UAE would like to be working for a different employer within the next 12 months as compared to 38 per cent back in 2014.”

If businesses are cash-strapped to offer across-the-board salary hikes, what can they do on the benefits side? According to local business sources, chances of a major 2018 upgrade on salary structures are remote.

Even on the benefits side, there is a certain degree of wariness at a time when many of them are facing cashflow stress.

“There are new opportunities to differentiate, not just with enhanced health offerings but including voluntary benefits for employees built around their personal requirements that go beyond the mandated provisions,” said Theodor Alexandrescu, General Manager, MetLife Gulf.

“We now see a much broader range of benefits possibilities to build deeper employee engagement.”

The survey — MetLife’s second UAE Employee Benefit Trends Study — finds that 66 per cent of UAE employees want their employers to provide a wider array of benefits that they can purchase on their own.

This compares with the 39 per cent who said so in 2014, when the previous survey was done.

Work-life balance support, wellness

And employees are more interested in wellness options not yet offered by their employer – "including 'work-life balance' support (72 per cent), preventative care (71 per cent) and stress management (70 per cent),” the report adds.

Not too many employers in the UAE offer insurance cover for dental or optical requirements. Even for critical illness and accident cover, employers are only willing to pay for the bare minimum. And more of them want - up to 79 per cent as per the MetLife findings - to shift costs to employees.

But the percentage of employees willing to pay extra for critical/accident cover is also on the rise.

“Sixty-two per cent of employees told us they would agree to pay for benefits customization, against just 43 per cent in 2014,” it notes.

“Many employers are planning on offering benefits that aren’t high up their employees’ wish-lists. They’re ignoring some highly sought-after financial security options that might be a powerful tool in boosting employee engagement.

“Our study tells us that 72 per cent of employers think optional benefits are a cost-effective way of meeting employees’ diverse needs.”

In fact, the chances of employees buying dental or critical illness cover is in the 60 per cent range if employers foot some of the bill. And it drops to the 40 per cent plus range when they have to pay for it on their own.

Perception gap

According to the MetLife findings, 75 per cent of UAE employers agree that benefits enable productivity, and 79 per cent want to shift costs of customized benefits to employees.

And 73 per cent believe their responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees will increase in the next 3-5 years.

Among UAE employees, 59 per cent hope to be working for a different employer in the next year and 66 per cent said employers should provide a wider array of benefits that employees can purchase on their own.