x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The downside of promotion in the UAE

The Life: Businesses will see more Emiratis take leadership positions at a younger age, but how do they properly prepare these employees for the future?

Many employees who end up becoming managers do so because they are technically strong in some particular skill.
Many employees who end up becoming managers do so because they are technically strong in some particular skill.

More Emiratis are being offered senior positions at an earlier age, but experts warn that some companies in the region are not doing enough to adequately prepare them to lead.

"In many cases, it's not their [employees'] fault. It's the organisation's fault that they've pushed them into these kinds of situations without giving them the tools and without investing in them to develop and prepare for this," says Elie Georgiou-Botaris, a senior consultant at the Dubai office of Towers Watson, a human resource consultancy. "They're set to fail if they're rushed into it."

The number of Emiratis in the workforce is projected to nearly double by 2050, from about 330,000 today to 600,000, as more individuals join the private sector and continue to expand the ranks of public companies, according to data presented last week by Towers Watson. But half of the country's population has yet to reach the age of 25, and it's expected that a growing number of young individuals will be asked to step up and fill the shoes of older managers who are set to retire in the coming years. The number of Emiratis who took early retirement last year alone increased 23 per cent compared with 2009, according to data released in March by the General Pension and Social Security Authority in Abu Dhabi.

Many employees who end up becoming managers do so because they are technically strong in some particular skill. Yet, experts warn that some individuals who rise rapidly through the ranks may ultimately underperform once they are squeezed between corporate pressures from up above and swelling demands from those below.

"Very often managers find themselves being expected to do their original role, plus managing people," says Dr Stephen Harding, a senior practitioner at Towers Watson who has studied organisational psychology and co-wrote the book, Manager Redefined. "The result of that is they find insufficient time to bring out the best in them," he adds. "They're simply spread too thin."

A successful corporate strategy, on the other hand, includes grooming two or three high-potential Emiratis for management roles and providing enough support once one of them is promoted to a more senior position. Taking a more methodical approach can help them learn how to customise jobs.

These kinds of efforts can also boost a company's financial performance, according to research from Towers Watson, which found firms with consistently higher levels of engagement provided 9.3 per cent higher shareholder returns compared with the S&P 500 index.

To be sure, more companies in the region seem to be trying to teach both Emirati and expatriate managers about how to increase workplace engagement. "We get requests," says Rory Hendrikz, the director for the business school Ashridge, Middle East, which is to run a five-day management development programme this week in the capital. Yet he warns that some individuals "leapfrog" so quickly into new roles they miss out on crucial lessons about how to do it effectively.

"Expectations of senior management can be quite high and fairly demanding of those in lower ranks, and they don't necessarily see what it takes to succeed," says Mr Hendrikz.