great places to work

How well do companies reflect UAE values?

UAE companies are working towards creating a culture where happiness, tolerance and innovation are pillars of growth

By Priya Mathew | Deputy Chief Subeditor
15:28 March 20, 2017

When many nations across the world were embracing narrow definitions of nationalism, the UAE appointed ministers of state for happiness and tolerance, making these universal values an integral part of governance. The aim was to drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction and instil tolerance in society. To what extent are these values reflected in UAE companies?

Successful companies have happy employees who are more engaged, loyal, creative and productive than their less-satisfied counterparts, says specialist recruiter Robert Half in a study, The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees, published late last year. “When we are talking about happiness — and why happy workers are more productive, engaged and better for your bottom line — we are using happiness as an umbrella term for something much larger,” explains Dr Christine Carter, senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California, Berkeley, in the study. Here, the term happiness includes a broader range of positive emotions such as hope, optimism, confidence, inspiration and awe.

As happy as it gets

“As the UAE works towards becoming one of the world’s happiest nations, employers are starting to recognise the crucial role their companies can play in achieving that goal,” says Maha Zaatari, Managing Director of Great Place to Work in the UAE, which releases the Top Companies to Work for list every year.

“We are seeing among the top companies a greater emphasis on CSR initiatives as employers respond to employees’ desire for meaning, to be part of something bigger. People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do.”

Laurel Estafanous, Human Resources Director Middle East for Estée Lauder Companies, strikes a similar note. “What we find each year from employee feedback and the Great Place to Work survey results is that our corporate responsibility activities are the most powerful when it comes to employee engagement and happiness at work. Engaged employees are most often happy employees.”

UAE Exchange, which is on the GPTW list for the second time, has taken it one step further and put the focus squarely on employee happiness. “We established a happiness agenda to complement the engagement framework,” says Promoth Manghat, CEO of UAE Exchange. “In sync with the UAE government’s vision for happiness, we strategised happiness in our growth journey, plotting it clearly on the road map.”

The company has a dedicated team within HR, headed by Manager — Happiness, to enhance the happiness quotient of its people, with initiatives to engage employees effectively, enhance their sense of belonging, improve satisfaction and help reach their potential.

Organisations that emphasise happiness have achieved tangible results just by listening. What came out of that exercise at Omnicom Media Group were benefits such as extended maternity leave of 90 days, five days of paternity leave, flexible working hours for new mums, healthy on-site food options, more leisure space at the office and bike racks.

Inclusion’s the word

But it’s not just happiness that makes a company successful. Manufacturing and electronics giant Siemens employs more than 80 nationalities in the UAE. Without tolerance and policies encouraging diversity in the workplace, the company says it wouldn’t have succeeded as an organisation.

“I believe the UAE is very fortunate with its visionary leadership,” says Dietmar Siersdorfer, CEO of Siemens Middle East and UAE. “Creating a Minister of State for Tolerance is a progressive and admirable move. By setting such a standard, the government encourages these values both on a social and corporate level.

“On the other hand, the UAE is a prominent hub for international companies and these organisations bring their global values and codes of conduct with them. Therefore, the positive impact of working for entities that uphold high ethical standards in business cannot be underestimated.”

With 38 nationalities working together, inclusion is a key tool for building a stronger corporate culture for Omnicom too. “We don’t tolerate any behaviour that is discriminatory or hateful,” says Fadi Chamat, Regional Executive Director — People Team, Omnicom Media Group Mena. It has been working with a consultancy to conduct an audit of its inclusiveness. “We’re still in the process and are certain it will help us refine our already sophisticated policies, processes and systems.”

Innovate or die

Another value that the UAE has been espousing for some time now is innovation. His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, while launching Innovation Week UAE in 2015, said “innovation is not an option, but a necessity”.

“It is not a culture, but work style, and governments and companies that do not innovate risk losing their competitiveness and falling far behind.”

Companies seem to have taken note.

Splash, featuring in the top five in the GPTW list for the second time, has processes in place to encourage innovation. “We have a Thinkers programme, where certain team members come together to be a think tank in every department and constantly ideate and experiment to bring fresh ideas and processes for the benefit of the business,” says Raza Beig, CEO of Splash and Iconic and Director of Landmark Group.

The fashion brand also holds competitions where internal designers present a collection that is then represented in-store. It has also partnered with management institutes such as IIM Ahmedabad and SP Jain to bring courses and modules for select outperforming employees.

Then there’s a company  that believes it’s constantly in a state of innovation in order to meet customer demands, enhance its internal efficiencies as well as cope with changing logistical demands, the one that’s been named the top company to work for in the UAE for four consecutive years by GPTW — DHL.

“We encourage employees to contribute ideas through the continuous improvement programme on what they believe can be done better for the team, the business and our customers,” says Anu Daga, Head of HR — UAE. “By using gemba — which means go to the real place and talk to the real people — and other tools, employees were able to provide input on additional revenue generation opportunities, cost-saving ideas and improvements of processes for a better customer experience.”

However, Zaatari points out the need for another value in the equation to make it all come together: trust. “What [our] research consistently shows is that when trust is present across the three key relationships in the workplace — between employees and managers, employees and jobs and employees and other employees — job satisfaction is higher, diversity in the workplace is stronger and employees are empowered to take risks within the organisation and stretch themselves creatively.”