Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

From superhero capes to free breakfast: how UAE companies are keeping their employees happy

Employers are placing increasing emphasis on worker satisfaction, hoping it will translate to happier staff, higher retention rates and larger profits

Lina Fahmy wears her superhero cape, part of her employer RBBI's efforts to keep its staff motivated and happy. Reem Mohammed / The National
Lina Fahmy wears her superhero cape, part of her employer RBBI's efforts to keep its staff motivated and happy. Reem Mohammed / The National

Every morning when she reaches work, Lina Fahmy faces a choice – whether to put on her superhero cape or not.

She is one of two employees at digital marketing agency Red Blue Blur Ideas (RBBi) who have for this quarter been rewarded for being the embodiment of the company’s motto: “do the right thing”.

Their prize is the privilege of being allowed to wear a cape around the office.

“For the first week I wore it every single day because I wanted to gloat and show off,” said Ms Fahmy, 24, from Egypt, who is a researcher and analyst with the company.

“Now I have it lying beside my desk. I don’t wear it all the time but I do sometimes still put it on.”

The business’s meeting rooms are also themed from comic books, with names like Gotham City and the Bat Cave. And they are not the only unusual aspects in office – there are several breakout areas, giving staff the opportunity to work from a sofa, beanbag or even an exercise ball.

The company has introduced policies like hot desking and working from home to encourage staff creativity. And anyone who does work from the office is treated to a breakfast each morning.

RBBi is just one of many companies placing an increasing emphasis on treating its staff well in the hope that it translates to happier staff, higher retention rates and larger profits.

Google France offices with table football to keep staff entertained. AFP
Google France offices with table football to keep staff entertained. AFP

“Digital talent here, especially in the region, is very hard to come across,” said Lisa Hodson, talent acquisition manager with RBBi.

“We do a lot of headhunting, so when we have the right people in the business we want to make sure they are happy and in an environment where they can be their best version of themselves.

“It’s about us as a company and making sure we are successful, but that we also put a high emphasis on making sure they are learning and developing in their career so they stick with us.”

According to a number of studies, this type of strategy actually works.

A survey by the University of Warwick found that happy staff were 12 per cent more productive. And at Google, a company already famous for treating its staff well, an increased investment in employee support led to a 37 per cent rise in staff satisfaction.

The Happiness Hub, a Dubai company that delivers tailored “happiness solutions” for companies, conducted a survey in the UAE to find out which company people wanted to work for.

“One third of people said Google. And when we probed them and asked them why they wanted to work for them, they said it was because of how they treat their staff,” said Fiona Barron, chief executive and founder of The Happiness Hub.

“They don’t care what Google does. It’s because they know Google invests in their employees. Hardly ever now is it about whether [employers] pay well, either.”

After recruitment agency Michael Page Middle East started placing a greater focus on flexibility and recognition, they recorded a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in revenue as a result.


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“We credit the performance directly with our drastic drop in employee turnover rate this year. We’ve seen a low employee turnover rate of 10 per cent, the lowest globally across the PageGroup,” said Leith Ramsay, the company’s regional managing director.

“The initiatives undertaken through the year have paid off in Michael Page having an all-time record year ever since the company first established its Middle East operations in 2006.”

Jumeirah Group is another company that places an emphasis on treating its staff well. And it is reaping the benefits having just been named one of the best employers in the UAE by Aon Hewitt, a leading global human resource consulting company, for the second year in a row. They were up against 350 organisations with 275,000 employees across the region.

“In our company we have 14,000 employees and we were one of nine organisations to be named the best employers in the region,” said Jumeirah’s chief human resources officer, Ellen Dubois du Bellay.

But what is really interesting about the company’s treatment of its staff is the emphasis it places on junior employees, whom are considered the most important staff members in the company.

Happiness for staff mean giving meaning to work by achieving a positive work-life balance. Getty Images
Happiness for staff mean giving meaning to work by achieving a positive work-life balance. Getty Images

“They are the ones who are closest to our guests on a day-to-day basis and so how they are recruited and onboarded into the organisation, how they are developed, is more important frankly than how managers are treated,” said Ms Du Bellay.

The company spends a lot of time thinking about who it wants to work for the group, and all the employees in its hotels have to be personally approved by the property’s general manager. The staff is considered as the greatest asset and a key differential in a competitive industry.

“There is such a small margin of difference between companies now. They all do things in the same way. They have access to the same information and automation. So the one thing that truly differentiates them is the culture and the happiness of their employees,” she said.

And part of that happiness is bringing meaning to work by achieving a positive work-life balance, particularly for millennials.

“It’s not just that they want a job anymore," said Ms Barron, "but it’s about what they are going to get from it. It’s more than a job and about having a sense of meaning, being able to have a purpose and feeling like they get that balance. Working for the sake of working is archaic and now people are very much focused on having a meaningful life and being able to have that satisfaction and engagement at work.

RBBi actually targets millennials, which could be another factor behind its quest to keep its staff happy. And it appears to be working.

“When you go to work you are not dreading going to work,” said Ms Fahmy, who is herself a millennial.

“You look forward to seeing people. I was off last week and the whole time I was like, ‘oh I wonder what they’re doing at the office?’ I felt I was missing out not being there.”

Updated: January 1, 2019 02:01 PM