Company needs a lifeboat

The Life: As hiring in the region picks up, more businesses stand to lose valuable workers to competitors. Employment experts share strategies on how to retain them.
Bronwyn Colgan, left, Elizabeth Williamson, centre, and Sara Khoja from Clyde & Co discuss the hiring trend in the UAE.
Bronwyn Colgan, left, Elizabeth Williamson, centre, and Sara Khoja from Clyde & Co discuss the hiring trend in the UAE.

The economic tide has begun turning in favour of job seekers in the Emirates, as more employers report hiring staff. But some businesses may be hitting rough waters as top-performing employees drift over to the competition.

"During uncertain times employees tend to stay focused on their roles," says Bronwyn Colgan, a senior associate in the Dubai office of Clyde & Co, a law firm. "What you tend to see when the market starts to become a little more stable is employees looking around for other opportunities. It can seem to some employers that everyone is starting to jump ship."

According to a survey released last month, 59 per cent of employers in the UAE said they were hiring job candidates at the managerial level, up from 46 per cent last quarter.

Almost 70 per cent of companies said they expected to hire more for their professional-level vacancies this quarter, according to data released by Antal, an international recruitment firm with an office in Dubai.

"Employees are looking around for new jobs," says Ms Colgan.

She says this trend can have quite an impact on small and medium-sized business that might have a huge amount invested in just one or two key people.

"In losing some of your key employees to competitors who might take with them some of your clients is particularly damaging when you're a small business relying on a small number of people," Ms Colgan says.

To stem the loss of valuable workers, experts suggest businesses should employ a number of measures. Of course, the major concern business owners have, particularly those that are still struggling, is "how do you create benefits for employees without increasing your overhead costs"? she says.

Some tactics are as simple as communicating the value of existing benefits to employees, who may not know that they are entitled to certain treatments in a company health plan, for instance.

An end-of-service gratuity, which is paid out to an employee in different amounts depending on when they leave their job, is another area that often does not get communicated properly. Companies that update workers on how much more money they might earn if they stay on for certain periods of time may be able to entice some to stay on board longer.

Yet companies should also seek to create long-term incentives, which can be a win-win scenario where both the employer and employee stand to gain. Share-based awards, which tend to be more feasible at large firms in the region, benefit an employee as long as the company performs well.

Employers, for their part, could add in a natural element of retention by stipulating that an employee would lose an entitlement if they resign within a certain time.

"Have the appropriate rewards structures in place," says David Zinn, a senior consultant in the Dubai office of Towers Watson, a consultancy.

Smaller firms may want to create performance bonuses, although if they do, they should have clear targets that are communicated to employees.

For instance, if a company's sales team must increase business by 20 per cent over six months, managers should provide that information to the appropriate workers, along with details of any bonuses that might rewarded.

A growing number of young workers are graduating from high school and university programmes in the Emirates and entering the workforce.

While they may not hold a lot of business knowledge when they first join, they can certainly become valuable members of an organisation in a short period of time.

Good employers, whether in the public or private sector, "understand individual aspirations of those employees and engage them - and give them opportunities for career development," says Mr Zinn.

Holding on to higher-level employees, such as department managers, can seem trickier. But Mr Zinn says keeping an open line of communication so employees can develop helps.

He also notes that having a formal career-development track or training programme can assist in curbing turnover.

nparmar@thenational.ae

Published: August 9, 2011 04:00 AM

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