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Sun 21 Oct 2018 10:37 AM

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Comment: What matters to employees - more money or better perks?

A tight economy rendered this question irrelevant. That may change in the coming years

Comment: What matters to employees - more money or better perks?
The Cigna survey showed that workplace wellness programmes are considered crucial for employees in the UAE

What do you care most about when it comes to choosing your employer? A company that says it cares about your wellbeing, or the one paying the highest salary?

Ruth Fletcher, VP of People at Careem, says that money isn’t the driving factor. The ride-hailing app company offers three months’ maternity leave, enhanced paternity pay, sabbaticals and extended time off for higher performers, together with monthly healthcare days.

But what the package doesn’t necessarily offer is a higher salary than its rivals.

According to Fletcher, “We cannot compete with some of the higher paying multinationals in this part of the world. So we compete on a value proposition and wellness is at the core of that.”

Fletcher says that Careem does this as it’s “the right thing to do” and because it is vital for competing in today’s market.

“The average age of Careem employees is 28. Their expectations around how we nurture talent are really high. If they aren’t met, they will find an alternative employer.”

But can that really be right? Does a company like Careem really need to fight to attract the best talent?

New priorities

Among the many supposed characteristics of millennials, we are told that they look for more than just the largest available salary when choosing a job. This is, to a certain extent, backed up by data.

A recent survey by Cigna Insurance Middle East found that 81 percent of respondents agreed that workplace wellness initiatives are important in choosing between two employers.

Meanwhile, the 2018 Global Business and Spending Outlook survey by American Express Middle East found that 63 percent of regional CEOs and CFOs plan to offer more flexible schedules, a figure that rises to 72 percent in the UAE.

They also anticipated an increase in training (65 percent), as well as improvement in workplaces. This appears to point to an ideal scenario where employees want wellness benefits and employers are meeting that demand.

Except it’s not that simple. The Cigna study pointed to a distinct mismatch between theory and practise, with UAE residents having experienced a decline in wellness during the past year due to work pressures. Only 23 percent of respondents said they exercise on a regular basis compared to 29 percent in 2017, while 45 percent said they get sufficient sleep compared to 49 percent the previous year.

Furthermore, three in five respondents said they do not have any formal workplace wellness programme in place, and half claimed they do not receive adequate support in dealing with stress.

All of which leads to a more nuanced conclusion: companies understand the importance of wellbeing schemes and plan to introduce them... but many haven’t done so yet. While employees say it’s an important factor, yet are working harder than before in their current job.

'It’s the economy stupid'

The American Express report helps explain this paradox. Ninety percent of the regional CFOs surveyed anticipated ‘modest to substantial’ economic growth.

This confidence was reflected in regional spending forecasts: three quarters of them planned to increase investment by six percent or more for the year ahead.

But this comes off the back of several years where, due to low oil prices and a sluggish economy, caution was the watchword. Employers weren’t ready to push the boat out on salaries and benefits, and haven’t been in a fight for talent.

Conversely, employees have been more concerned with keeping their jobs rather than demanding the perks to which they feel entitled.

As the economic cycle shifts, so will this dynamic. Talent will be more of premium, forcing companies to decide if they really do care about employee wellbeing.

Or they may conclude that it all sounds a bit complicated and just offer higher salaries instead, at which point we will also find out: do employees really want more perks, or does a fatter wage packet win in the end?

And you know what? I think it comes down to the cold, hard cash… but then again, I’m not a millennial.

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