Six Reasons Why GCC Employers Are Losing Their Best Employees
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Speak to almost any HR leader or company boss in the GCC nowadays about their biggest HR concern, and the term “staff retention” will jump immediately at your face. And by retention, leaders mean that they are really interested in keeping their top talent, and letting go of employees they feel don’t play a role in driving the business.
As heartless as it may sound to some of you, this type of thinking does make sense. According to studies by leading human resource consultancy firm Aon, more than 60% of organizations they had surveyed said that “an inability to retain key employees contributed to deals not meeting their goals.” Losing top talent can be an expensive affair for employers, due to the substantial costs associated with finding, employing and training a replacement.
Another reason why many bosses lose sleep over the possibility of losing their top talent lies in the fact that when such talent leave, they often take with them the relationships they have developed and nurtured for their employers throughout their duration in the company. Ouch!
Bosses are not the only ones losing sleep- employees are also very concerned about their future in their jobs. Several surveys, including a Nielsen report conducted recently, showed that “job security” was the top concern among employed residents in the country. Interestingly, in the UAE, this fear is also shared by Emirati nationals, who regard “job security” as the most important factor in any career choice they make, beating salaries and benefits offered according to a survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group in 2015. From the jobseekers I speak to regularly, I can confidently say that sentiment has not changed much.
The question here is, could the fall in oil prices and the challenging global and local economic climate be the only reasons why both expat and local talent are leaving their jobs? Should these be the only reasons organizational leaders should be concerned about when trying to retain talent? Well, I believe that there are other reasons behind top talent leaving their organizations, and they often happen right under the very noses of the organization’s leadership, and taken for granted until it is too late.
Here is, in my opinion, a list of six nonsensical HR practices in the GCC region that drive good employees away:
1. False sense of security that employees are less likely to leave due to lack of career opportunities in the market
I once posed a question to my followers on LinkedIn asking them if they thought that the current job market was an “employer” or an “employee” market? There was a clear divide: HR managers, recruiters, and managers believed strongly that it was an employer’s market, and employers have the upper hand in dictating when, who, and how they attract talent- but jobseekers believed otherwise. I have seen how this false sense of security influence how managers treat their employees until it’s too late.
2. Lack of clarity and transparency
I have seen this transpire across the various functions of the talent management process in organizations. For example, the recruitment process would produce vague job roles and responsibilities. Another example is when the HR function does not define and communicate the company’s employee value proposition (EVP). The EVP can be better described as the “What’s In It For Me (WIFM)” paradigm, as it’s really the set of rewards, benefits, and incentives the prospective or current employee receives in return for their performance in the workplace. Another major culprit here is the lack of clarity when it comes to salaries and benefits offered to prospects. Similarly, many employees I speak to complain of not being able to crack through the glass ceiling and progressing higher due to the lack of clarity -and fairness- when it comes to the employee’s access to development opportunities. It’s quite common to hear employers tell their employees that they are cutting down on development plans for short-term gains. Employees are then told to “just get on with it,” since the company is focused on “more pressing priorities.” However, we tend to forget that what makes human beings unique as a species is their need for progression, whether it is mentally, spiritually, physically, or financially. Employers should not take this need for granted, as it will always be there, regardless of the level the employee is in the organization’s hierarchy.
3. Nepotism and favoritism (a.k.a. wasta in the local Khaleeji dialect)
I have always described wasta as the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about openly. In my experience, wasta has been blamed for everything from hiring decisions employers make, access to internal opportunities, career growth and promotions, to who is the boss’s favorite, and who gets the office with a nice view. I’ve heard it all. Managers might take wasta for granted, but employees feeling frustrated of what they see as injustice will not take it for granted for too long, and it’s only a matter of time before they pack up and leave.
4. Entrusting promising talent to line managers who lack the competency or trust to engage and lead their teams
A white paper titled Talent 2021 published by Aon in 2017 referred to the results of a survey that showed that 83% of millennial respondents cited “trustworthiness” as their primary concern when it came to their relationship with their managers. I really liked what the white paper describes in a nutshell what every leader can do to boost trustworthiness in their organizations: “walk the talk, and tell it the way it is.” This, in my view, translates to leaders who embody the organization’s culture, while giving honest and transparent feedback.
5. Ancient and outdated attendance policies
I recently brought up this topic on Twitter, and got a good number of people share their views and experience on this. One of them was an Emirati who articulated what he felt about employers’ attitude to attendance in the region, noting that some organizations were not being sincere when it comes to all the talk about engagement and employee productivity. He said: “In reality, employers who say that would, in truth, love it if there was an option to have every employee wear an ankle bracelet.” Whether you agree with his point of view, or find it to be too harsh, it is unfortunately a popular sentiment among employees in the market.
6. Confusing loyalty with engagement
American businessman Harvey Mackay once said: “Employee loyalty starts with employer loyalty. Your employees should know that if they do the job they were hired to do, with a reasonable amount of competence and efficiency, you will support them.” It’s no secret that organizations are worried about the uncertainty shrouding the global and regional market. This uncertainty unfortunately continues to dictate not only the strategy, but the attitude organizations adopt towards its workforce as well. I have always found it strange when employers expect employees to put their careers on hold, and stick to the organization through thick and thin, while the company -hopefully- sorts itself out. HR has come a long way from an emphasis on loyalty, to embracing the concept of engagement. Aon, for example, defines engagement as the emotional and intellectual involvement that motivates employees to give their best. Notice that engagement, unlike loyalty, is not bound by time, type of relationship, or blind faith in the boss. It’s because of this that I find engagement a more befitting goal to pursue in today’s workplace, especially among a millennial workforce. We already know that millennials see little benefit in staying in one firm for life. Instead, they want work that will make good use of their skills, while it helps them grow new skills, work that will challenge them, work that is meaningful to them, and finally work they get recognition for.
Economic and geopolitical factors aside, I have always believed that the organization’s approach to harnessing its human capital in the most optimal way is key towards achieving success and long-term sustainability. This is evident from the most successful global companies, as well in the philosophy top CEOs adopt in running their businesses. Each person is unique in their own way, however, according to self-development guru and author Anthony Robbins, we all share six human needs: we long for Certainty, Variety and Change, we want to feel Significant, we long for Connection with others around us, we want to feel that we are Contributing to something wherever we are, and finally, we will always look for Growth. Employers would do well to heed these basic human needs if they want to retain their talent, and keep them engaged.