The decision to move into the private sector for nationals is an extremely difficult undertaking. The world of the government sector promises Emiratis limitless comforts and stability that is tremendously easy to become accustomed to.
As the Ministry of Labour announced earlier this week, there are long-term plans to develop the Emirati workforce, but there are serious impediments involved in encouraging nationals to enter the private sector. To even consider moving across the fence from public-sector employment, an Emirati must be committed and determined to further develop his or her experience and professionalism, while sacrificing the numerous benefits offered in the public sector.
The government sector's "cushy jobs", as some refer to them, offer absolute job security. It is almost impossible to want to leave these jobs unless under extreme circumstances. Of course, government jobs also pay much better than in the private sector and a clear career path is usually laid out before you. For the most part, working hours are often less than the private sector, with little or no requirement to take your work home with you. In other words, when weighing the benefits between private to public sector jobs, you are looking at a three-legged wooden stool compared to a cushy La-Z-Boy.
These points can be applied to many countries, but one of the main reasons that makes the UAE's government more appealing to nationals is the work culture. The simple truth is that we live in a country where nationals are a small part of the population. In the government sector, a national will be surrounded by other Emirati colleagues who understand the culture, customs and traditions of the employee. Private-sector jobs demand that you learn to accept and work by another's work culture. This has its own benefits, but the process of learning and adapting to a new cultural milieu is often an exhausting and painful process.
One Emirati way of life that is hard for colleagues and managers in the private sector to comprehend is the unconditional priority for one's family, and placing them before anything else including work. Managers in the private sector are accustomed to professional men with families sharing the responsibility of family and children with their spouses. This is also the case for some Emirati families, but even with a spouse who works, an Emirati man usually holds a disproportionate share of responsibilities for the family in some areas. Trying to explain that to a line manager who has little or no experience with Emiratis is a hard task that can often lead to an unpleasant work environment.
But while the public sector seems more rewarding, many rewards are also available in the private sector. One advantage is the reward of knowledge. If Emiratis truly have set their minds on broadening their horizons, then the private sector is undoubtedly the way to go. In most cases, an Emirati will gain unique knowledge and expertise in a field based on international standards.
He or she will also have the benefit of learning how to work side-by-side with colleagues of other nationalities. Additionally, with the right management, talents and strengths can be nurtured and utilised through challenging work that only leads to further development.
Of course, there is a lot of risk involved when considering a move to the private sector. Emiratis may very well end up with a line manager who creates an extremely unpleasant work environment, either through ignorance or negative intentions.
Work practices can aggravate this because Emiratis are often a minority in the workplace. In some cases, managers unfortunately abuse this fact by singling out the mistakes or weaknesses of Emirati employees to avoid the responsibility of training them. Sadly, this has been known to happen to many over the years and Emiratis are fully aware of the risk when deciding to enter the private sector.
With longer hours, less pay and cultural challenges, the private sector is not an easy path to take for Emiratis. But those who do choose to take the road less travelled are embarking on a search for knowledge through hardship. Faced with two options, with the government sector clearly outweighing the comfort and benefits of the private sector, these Emiratis have willingly chosen to leave their comfort zone in favour of career development. Are these not the qualities every manager searches for in an employee?
It is hard for many to fathom how much effort and determination for self-improvement is required for Emiratis to voluntarily choose these extra hardships. These same self-selecting traits are the ideal characteristics of employees whose goals are career development despite the sacrifice.
For senior management in the private sector, recognising these qualities in their Emirati employees is crucial to understanding the possibilities and contributions they can offer their managers, teams and respective companies.
Taryam al Subaihi is a freelance writer from Abu Dhabi who specialises in corporate communications