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Fri 19 Dec 2014 02:57 AM

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Employee benefits key to retention in the UAE's talent war

Business is good and so the war for the best talent is on, says MetLife Gulf's Chafic Houry

Employee benefits key to retention in the UAE's talent war

With a buoyant economy and with strong and rising GDP (4% pa real GDP growth between 2015-19, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit) the UAE looks set for continued growth for the foreseeable future.

New residents are arriving in droves (Abu Dhabi’s population, alone, has doubled in the last 8 years); business is good and so the war for talent is on, and with such a competitive job market, there will always be stresses and strains for employers and employees.

This was the theme consistently echoed by employers and also by employees in the first MetLife UAE Employee Benefit Trends Study, (published on November 12) which surveyed a sample of 600 respondents across the UAE.

According to the survey, the UAE shows a comparatively (with other countries surveyed by MetLife) strong connection between employee benefits and staff engagement – job satisfaction, productivity, health & wellness – but the potential impact on staff retention (key in the war for talent) was the most striking finding in the survey results.

Alarmingly, nearly 40% of the employers surveyed expect a near-term talent shortage. Their fears are probably justified. 39% of employees surveyed say they have a ‘strong hope’ to be working for another employer within the next year. Amongst managers, this figure rises to 44%.

It’s not all about salary and benefits. Quality of the working environment and loyalty also figured in the views expressed, but there was a clear disconnect between the views of employers and employees. In the MetLife UAE study, 63% of employers surveyed said they feel strongly that their company is ‘a great place to work’; but only 43% of employees agreed. In terms of loyalty, 65% of employers feel they are loyal to employees, but just 38% of employees ‘strongly agree’.

What are these restless employees and managers looking for? What will tempt them to join other companies and what might persuade them to stay with their current employer?

The UAE is a strong global destination for corporate executives looking for rewarding career opportunities; the UAE ranks 3rd in the world for its capacity to attract talent and 6th in the world for its capacity to retain talent, according to the recent World Economic Forum global competitiveness report, for 2014-15.

Benefits seem to play an especially important role in attracting and retaining talent in the UAE; company benefits are well-established in the UAE, and our analysis confirms that benefits are effective drivers of employee engagement and commitment.

The majority of employees surveyed (55%) say they place a high value on the benefits they get from their employer, and this holds true across all age groups, and company types and sizes in the UAE.

However, employees continue to have health and financial security concerns, creating an opportunity for companies to better satisfy these unmet needs. 60% of employees feel they are falling behind in their savings goals and planning for retirement – perhaps not surprising when one-third of them aim to retire before the age of 60 (and more than three-quarters by 65).

Our study indicates that employees will reward employers for taking away some of the financial worries. These concerns are not vague issues in the back of the mind of employees – these are front and center on a daily basis.

Consider that more than 1/3 of all employees surveyed in the UAE are more distracted at work because of financial worries, and 39% of those surveyed have unexpectedly taken time off to manage a financial issue in the last 12 months; nearly 50% believe they spend more of their work time thinking about financial issues than they should.

Among those employees hoping to leave their current employer, 53% also say an improved benefits package would induce them to stay – well ahead of job security and career advancement opportunities, and only behind increased salary.

The good news from the study is the impact of benefits and wellbeing programs on employee engagement and commitment. Offering these programs, and communicating clearly how they can address financial, physical, and emotional wellbeing, is a major weapon for any employer looking to win the war for talent.

Relooking benefit design, including a more holistic approach to healthcare, can have other impacts on the bottom line. In a region where lifestyle diseases are increasingly prevalent, there is a strong interest in an ‘end to end’ approach to health management and the study provides direction on where to focus. 

With talent increasingly in demand, employers in the UAE need to strike a balance, investing in the right employee benefits levers and trying new approaches, while carefully managing resources.  

Chafic Houry is Employee Benefits Director with MetLife Gulf

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