A good day at the office?

Employee satisfaction levels in the UAE figure below the global standards but there is a huge opportunity for companies to improve the productivity of their staff, study says.

Lama Ataya, the chief marketing officer at Bayt.com, tries to keep employees at the top of their game with a variety of incentives. Pawan Singh / The National
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What do FedEx, Microsoft Gulf, Marriott, PepsiCo Asia, Middle East and Africa, THE One, Bayt.com and Dulsco have in common?

They all feature in the list of the top 10 companies to work for in the UAE this year.

A balance between work and life, a culture of appreciation and an ear for employee suggestions were some of the reasons that helped them get into the list, the Great Place to Work Institute, which ranked the firms, highlighted.

"We are pleased to see new companies make the list this year and that some of our previous list makers have improved their positions among the top 10," says Michael Burchell, a partner and director of the Great Place to Work Institute UAE, which has offices in Dubai as well as major cities across the world.

"This shows they are applying what they learn from the research into models for continuous business improvement." But with only three home-grown companies making it into the report conducted in the Emirates it would seem that increasing employee satisfaction here is still a work in progress.

A survey this week from Towers Watson, a research and consultancy firm based in the United States with offices in Dubai, Paris and London, showed that staff satisfaction levels here are low compared with North America, Europe and parts of Asia.

"There is a huge opportunity to increase employee potential," said Billy Turriff, the business leader for data, surveys and technology at Towers Watson Middle East.

Mr Turriff points out that employees in the UAE are struggling to cope with high levels of work-related stress and financial concerns. There is also a lack of confidence in company executives.

"Get strong leadership on the ground to motivate and engage people and create a positive culture," says Mr Turriff. He also suggests telling employees not to answer work-related BlackBerry messages over the weekend.

Of the 1,000 employees surveyed in the UAE, only 31 per cent felt their companies promote staff health and well-being. That is 12 per cent less than the global average.

While the tough economic climate in which employees are expected to work harder is one of the reasons, the changing nature of the workforce here is also adding to the problem.

"Now a lot more people are staying longer in the UAE and making it their home," says Mr Turriff, adding that as a result worker expectations have risen.

"[Staff now want] to learn new skills [and be] rewarded in line with company performance."

The fallout of low employee satisfaction, which includes increased absenteeism and reduced productivity levels, can also hit companies financially, according to Mr Turriff.

Happy employees might also help the bottom line.

Global companies such as FedEx, Microsoft, Marriott and PepsiCo all reported an average increase of 10 per cent in earnings per share in the first quarter of the year.

Regular in-house surveys can also help companies understand the attitude of employees, observes Hazel Jackson, the chief executive of Biz-ability, which trains human resources teams.

"Some companies even carry out these surveys to adhere to corporate governance standards but don't really consider the results," she says.

Lama Ataya, the chief marketing officer at Bayt.com, tries to keep employees at the top of their game.

"[Perks include] generous external training allowances, flexible working hours for mothers, and an emphasis on regularly celebrating achievements," she says.

At Bayt.com, which employs 250 people, the management looks to motivate staff through regular team-building efforts.

"We always join events like Hercules, where different companies compete in a sports day, [and] our monthly fiesta is a way to get the creativity out of everyone. For example, our last theme was masquerade," says Ms Ataya.

The work environment is also crucial.

"Our pantries every day are very generously filled to the brim with free fresh seasonal fruit of every dimension for all employees," says Ms Ataya.