Tekraj Gubhahau of FedEx Express. Image Credit: Supplied pictures

From free training courses to reward schemes; from long holidays to lovely colleagues; from career development to open-door policies, these companies offer everything that makes up a dream job. And that's why they are officially the best companies to work for in the UAE.

The Great Place to Work® Institute UAE (GPTW UAE) announced its 2012 list of the top ten companies to work for in the country at a glitzy award ceremony earlier this month at the Monarch Hotel in Dubai. Executives from the ten finalist companies waited anxiously as the results were read out in reverse order. And when the second place was awarded to Microsoft, a loud cheer went out, not from their table but from the table for FedEx Express because they had secured the first spot - climbing from second place last year.

"It's a great honour," says David Ross, senior Vice President of FedEx Express. "We have been talking about this for more than a week. This award is not really ours. It belongs to our 570 employees here."

The company's Purple Promise Award (PPA), which recognises a team member who goes beyond the typical expectations, was one of the procedures that helped it clinch the top spot. And David understands why it played such an important role. "There is no better feeling than being recognised for something you do. It generates greater responsibility in people and gives them an incentive to perform better.

"Our founding principle is People-Service-Profit. If we take good care of our people, they will provide the service which will automatically bring in the profit. So it's important for us to ensure that our employees are satisfied. Every year we conduct a survey and ask them about their work - have they performed well this year? Are they happy with their managers and senior managers? Based on this survey we create an action plan for the next year because each year is different and it's important to stay in tune with the employees."

David says that even through difficult times, they've managed to keep their workers happy. "Because of how we treat them, people stay with us for huge chunks of their career, if not their whole career. So when we are facing an economic crisis our employees know that cash is tight. They pitch in and do their bit to help us overcome the situation." 

My career has taken off'

And the people working at FedEx Express are full of praise too. "It's the best company because they are always thinking of us employees," says Tekraj Gubhahau, who works as a dispatcher. "There is so much room for growth. When I first joined I was a part-time worker. Then I sat down with my manager and developed a personal growth plan. Within five years I became a full-time worker and my career has taken off.

"There are hundreds of free online courses that we can take to develop our skills and talents. Even if I wanted to do a course from an institute or go to college to pursue a degree, I can ask the management for a tuition aid."

The company is always ready to listen to employees and that, according to Tekraj, makes a huge difference. "It's an open-door policy at FedEx. I can walk into the office of any senior manager at any time and be sure he/she will listen to me. All grievances and complaints are given due value. This makes me feel like I am an important part of the company.

"We also have frequent meetings with our senior managers who ask us if we are happy with our immediate managers. Recognition and awards are given to those who perform well and I have won several of them."

GPTW UAE also gave special recognition to certain companies. General Electric (GE) and Pepsico were adjudged the top firms in the country for Emiratis. And the top companies for women to work in were GE, Omni and THE One. Women occupy 40 per cent of managerial positions at THE One, which at fifth spot is also the highest-rated local company. One of the contributing factors to this success is its community involvement efforts as part of which it has built six classrooms of a brand new school in the Pimbiniet community in Kenya in conjunction with the charity Free The Children.

"It doesn't matter whether you are a man or a woman here," says Clare Andow, store manager at THE One's Abu Dhabi branch. "As long as you have the passion in you, you can climb to whatever heights you want. I know it sounds clichéd but I have the best job in the world. The ethos is that I get to change the world. I'm not just selling sofas. I'm selling sofas for the greater purpose of building schools for the less fortunate. The work atmosphere is great. We are all away from our families here so we become each other's families at THE One." 

‘We celebrate success'

Clare says employee satisfaction is one of the key areas that THE One focuses on. "We have one-to-one sessions with all our employees to support their career development and help them become business leaders," she says. "We have appraisals four times a year to get their feedback on important issues. We also have a lot of team bonding activities. Once a month we have a breakfast bash where we celebrate the month's successes, birthdays and just have fun."

This is the second time GPTW UAE, part of a global research, training and consultancy firm that recognises the best workplaces in over 45 countries worldwide, has compiled the list of the top companies since it set up its base here in 2010. The annual benchmarking study forms part of the world's largest employee survey.

"Two-thirds of our result is based on how employees evaluate their company," says Michael Burchell, Director of GPTW UAE. "So the pride that they have about their work, the respect and trust they have for the managers and the level of camaraderie that exists in the workplace play a huge role in the position a company gets on this list.

"The remaining one-third is based on the policies and practices in the company. So we survey every employee and study the establishment in detail because it's not just about the list. All participating companies want to know where they are lacking and to improve themselves. And that's the reason why this year the benchmarks have improved. Even those who didn't make the list this time, had improved their work culture tremendously. But this is a competition and we could pick only ten companies."

Even though participation in the programme is voluntary, Michael hopes the list will soon become an indicator for workplace excellence in the country. "To be a good market player, it's essential to focus on the workplace culture," says Michael. "So apart from just compiling a list, we also want to raise questions about how companies are treating their workforce."

The top 10 list

1. FedEx Express www.fedex.com

What makes them great: FedEx's P-S-P or "people-service-profit" philosophy guides all of their efforts. To thank employees who exemplify PSP, it uses the Purple Promise Award (PPA) which recognises a team member who goes beyond the typical expectations for his or her job to ensure the customer's needs are met. Sometimes the individual's effort requires the assistance of co-workers. In such cases, more than one employee may receive a Purple Promise Award for the same endeavour. 

2. Microsoft Gulf FZ LLC www.microsoft.com

What makes them great: While Microsoft has a business-focused culture, it also works to create a sense of work/life balance. A charter of principles help assist in raising awareness of some of the key issues impacting an individual's work/life balance. 

3. Marriott www.marriott.com

What makes them great: Employees at Marriott benefit from a culture of appreciation. As an example, a Certificate of Excellence comes in the name of the associate from the Corporate Headquarters in Washington DC, and signed by the Company Co-Founder J. Willard Marriott, if an associate receives a thank you note from a customer on excellent service. 

4. Pepsi Co Asia, Middle East & Africa www.pepsico.com

What makes them great: Employees benefit during welcoming from an assigned "functional onboarding coach" and a "culture coach." These two mentors help the new employee adjust to the company and its business culture. 

5. THE One www.theone.com

What makes them great: At THE One, employees are invited to take part in community involvement efforts. By 2020 it hopes to support 99 villages. 

6. Omni www.omnicommediagroup.com  

What makes them great: The Circle of Excellence is the forum for thinking "outside the box". It is championed by a senior and provides a confidential forum in which to brainstorm solutions to challenges in business, personal and family life for themselves and on behalf of their colleagues. Participants are asked to share their commitment to maintaining a life-long focus on progress toward their long and short-term goals.

7. Merck UAE www.merck.de

What makes them great: Merck developed an "Employee Council" where every 15 employees elect one member to be their voice to senior managers. The employee council meets directly with the managing director of the organisation, the HR director and the VP of the region. In this meeting, all issues are discussed openly and there are no barriers to topics. Direct feedback is given to the employee council who transfer the message back and answer all queries of their respective teams. 

8. Bayt.com www.bayt.com

What makes them great: Bayt works hard at creating an employee-centric culture. In developing employees, for example, it conducts a daily training. These 30-40 minutes training sessions are called STARS training and the content is prepared by a bayt head and the content is shared across the offices each day. 

9. Dulsco LLC www.dulsco.com

What makes them great: Dulsco actively listens to employees. Its open door and ‘open office' model facilitates two-way communication, especially down-up, and it also has suggestion boxes across every location/department to encourage suggestions through awards and recognition. 

10 EMC http://middle-east.emc.com/

What makes them great: EMC works hard to provide a caring culture, going beyond what is required. For example, it grants paternity leave, as well as marriage leave, and compassionate leave, even though it is not required to do so by labour law. And it grants public holidays in excess of government announcements.