GNcareers, from Gulf News

Battle is on for hearts and minds of UAE employees

Battle is on for hearts and minds of UAE employeesImage Credit: Supplied

Providing health insurance by itself may no longer be enough for UAE companies to retain their best talent. With mandatory health insurance becoming the norm in Dubai, as has been the case in Abu Dhabi for a while now, companies will have to pad up their employee benefits package like never before.

If not, they could soon be victims of talent erosion, with 39 per cent of employees and 44 per cent of managers at local companies ''hoping to move jobs in the next 12 months'', according to recently released findings brought out by the regional operations of US insurer MetLife. (It was part of a global 'Employee Benefits Trends Study' carried out by the insurer.)

In fact, the UAE, more than any other country in the global survey, showed a greater connection between employee benefits and the level of engagement employees showed.

''The majority (55 per cent) say they place a high value on the benefits they get from their employer, and this holds true across all age groups, company types and sizes,'' said Ossman Charabati, Head of Employee Benefits — EMEA, MetLife. ''More importantly, a deeper analysis determined that people who said they highly valued their benefits were more likely to say they were satisfied and energised by their work.''

What is worrying for companies is the level of disconnect between what employees feel is a ''great'' work environment and the sentiments among their employees. While 63 per cent of employers had the view that what they offered was a great working environment, only 43 per cent of employees agreed. Moreover, while 65 per cent of employers feel they are loyal to employees, just 38 per cent of personnel strongly agreed.

''Among employees considering leaving their employer, 53 per cent say an improved benefits package would induce them to stay,'' said Charabati. ''This is trumped only by higher pay (62 per cent) and well ahead of job security (42 per cent) and advancement opportunities (39 per cent).''

The message, then, is clear — companies just have to offer more by way of benefits.

A good place to start would be to go way beyond the bare minimum on health insurance benefits. ''A good health package isn't just about covering costs that arise,'' said Charabati. ''It's about covering someone's end-to-end health care needs — from screening and wellness, through the point of requiring medical treatment and then on to case management. It's that broader — perhaps more compassionate — approach that yields the biggest dividends around engagement.''

There are ample reasons why employees could do with some help on health-specific benefits. A recent Towers Watson study found private health insurance costs in the UAE could increase 9.3 per cent through this year. And out of Dubai's 3 million residents, only a third are insured before the passage of the mandatory health coverage requirement.

''Workplace stress compounds concerns over personal finances and health management to create negative outcomes for employees — and their employers,'' said Charabati. ''We found nearly two-thirds of employers and three-quarters of employees are interested in stress management programs.

''Five of the top 10 causes of employee financial stress have a health dimension. More than one-third of employees now feel distracted at work due to financial worries; costs associated with illness and the need for appropriate health coverage top the list of employee concerns.

''The mandatory requirement will certainly help meet the basic health insurance needs in the UAE and although many employees enjoy the privilege of health cover, this will now reach all segments of society, which is a great advantage.''

Going beyond health insurance, employees could also benefit from any changes to end-of-service/pension reforms. ''At the government level, we have seen a variety of attempts at pension reforms, suggesting that we may see some kind of pension plan designed for expat employees,'' said Charabati. ''This will provide a greater sense of security for expats who have worked (or plan to work) for many years in the GCC.

''The UAE has a unique opportunity to establish a 'Mandatory Defined Contribution Pension' scheme without the related transition costs associated with shifting from a Social Security ''pay-as-you-go'' system to a funded one.

''The benefits to the country of offering the scheme to expatriates include making the UAE an even more attractive destination. Pension reform can help attract and retain qualified workers and encourage current expatriate employees to stay longer with their employers and within the same country.''

39% of employees indicated a 'strong hope' that they will be working for another company in the next year. This rises to 44% among managers.

This is indicative of the war for talent in the UAE, where 53% of employers are finding it 'very challenging' to attract talent, and 57% to retain talent in the UAE. Nearly 40% of employers surveyed anticipate near-term challenges with a shortage of talent.

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Source: Manoj Nair, Associate Editor,