UAE Vision 2021 Goals: The New Rules of Engagement

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(This is part two in a two-part series. Read part one by clicking here.)

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Vision 2021 sets ambitious goals for making the UAE a thriving knowledge economy and a global force. Increasing entrepreneurship and the happiness of its citizens are two of these goals towards that end. My earlier piece explored the status of entrepreneurship and wellbeing in the UAE now; this article explores how these goals might be achieved.

From Consumers to Creators

Increasing entrepreneurship and engagement among Emiratis is a complex process. Most models of entrepreneurship are based on developed and Western cultures and don't take into account the UAE's unique economic and social history. There is increasing evidence that nationals are somewhat misunderstood in terms of motivation: while critics often think that the UAE's policies and practices have created entitlement, dependence and security among its citizens, the drive for contribution and participation in the country's success does exist.

In the 2014 study, An Assessment of Employee Commitment to Work among UAE Nationals, Abu Dhabi and Dubai national employees in the private, public and semi-public sectors were evaluated in terms of their work commitment and engagement. The bulk of nationals worked in the public and semi-public sectors, of course, and reported the greatest work dissatisfaction. Emiratis reported that good work was often not recognized and that they were often not able to give their opinions about the work or their organization's progress. They also reported that performance evaluations were not fair, helpful or transparent.

A few nationals agreed with statements such as:

  • "In the last five working days, I have received recognition for doing good work."
  • "I have opportunities to discuss our progress as an organization."
  • "When I have contact with my supervisor, my opinions are taken into consideration."
  • "The feedback I get from this evaluation is useful."
  • "The evaluations inspire me to pursue new goals."

The study authors theorize that the top-down management style, consistent among UAE managers and reflective of its hierarchal society, affects employee engagement negatively. Employees feel that they have little influence, professional development is not well-supported, and their work does not feel important.

The study authors were surprised to find that even though very few nationals work in the private sector compared to the public sector, and while there was some failure of weekly recognition for good work, overall, Emirati employee engagement was very high in the private sector. These employees reported access to training and development and more influence and impact in the workplace, especially in decentralized organizations. Pay, benefits and security may be less important to Emirati workers than formerly believed, as these highly engaged workers seemed to respond to achievement, autonomy, challenge and responsibility.

The 2015 Oxford Strategic Consulting study, Building GCC National Talent, also found that 50% of the young Emiratis they interviewed cited challenge and development as more important than income when it comes to work. The authors admit that most Emiratis are drawn to the public sector, but the reason is not simply because of ready and higher income: their findings suggest that Emiratis view public sector employment as a way to contribute to their country's development, being simply unaware of how significant private sector involvement really is.

The study authors recommend that it is job satisfaction, excitement, long-term career prospects, wealth over a lifetime and country contribution that are stronger drivers for the engagement of nationals. It is alignment with UAE goals, more than easy income and hours, which will contribute to Emirati flow into the private sector.

Expatriates, too, desire more than income and more than status as "consumer citizens" in the UAE.

A 2014 study, conducted by The Boston Consulting Group and The Network, Decoding Global Talent, found that the top reason talented expatriates migrate to other countries is for personal and professional development; compensation factors are of less importance. The study found that 65% of expatriates are in search of life experience for themselves and their families, increased cultural understanding and perspectives, and the ability to rise through the ranks or start their own businesses.

Status, another important driver of entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, takes on a whole new dimension in the UAE considering the research. It is thus not empty titles that UAE residents crave, but recognition for their efforts in contributing to the nation's development as a knowledge economy.