Ryan Rodgers, head of operations at on-demand fuel-booking app Cafu, worked for a few days from the beaches of Phuket when he went for a 10-day holiday to Thailand in July this year.
The British executive, 38, could do this because his employer adopted a work-from-anywhere policy after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company is ranked among the top 10 start-ups to work for in the UAE this year, according to professional network LinkedIn.
“We have call hours, during which employees have to be online. That allows people in different time zones to connect during core hours of the business, which is aligned with the UAE time,” says Mr Rodgers, who has been with Cafu for three years.
“That flexibility suited people who wanted to spend time with family back home, as well as continue to contribute to work.”
Such flexible perks and incentives are increasingly commonplace in workplaces globally as companies adapt to changing dynamics after nearly two years since the onset pandemic.
More and more employees are insisting on higher pay, flexible hours, enhanced benefits and better treatment. If employers do not meet these demands, many are quitting their jobs or searching for more rewarding work elsewhere.
Some experts have called it “The Great Resignation”. Globally, employees are leaving their jobs at much higher rates than normal.
About 42 per cent of remote workers said if their company does not continue to offer options to work from home in the long term, they will look for a job that does, according to a March 2021 survey by financial services company Prudential.
The percentage of all LinkedIn members who changed their jobs, according to their LinkedIn profile, rose by 54 per cent a year at the end of September, the company’s chief executive Ryan Roslansky said in an interview with Time magazine.
For the Generation Z demographic cohort, this number is up 80 per cent from a year ago while for millennials, it is up 50 per cent. For Generation X, the number is up 31 per cent while for Boomers, it is only up 5 per cent, according to Mr Roslansky.
“I have worked for traditional corporates in the past who are quite rigid in their approach. You go in, do your 9-to-5 routine and probably don’t get a huge amount of job satisfaction,” Mr Rodgers says.
“In Cafu, you can see the effect of your contribution to the business, which gives people job satisfaction. You can see you are valued. This is one of the biggest differentiators.”
Other qualities that make Cafu a top 10 UAE start-up to work for include an innovative leave package, which includes self-care days, days off when employees are moving house, as well as marriage, maternity and paternity leave.
It also gives employees caregiver leave and days off for time spent on community projects, such as beach or desert clean-ups.
“All this is over and above annual leave. Since mental health has been a topic of concern for a few years now, we have a day for self-care if you need time out to recharge your batteries,” Mr Rodgers says.
“The business recognises that if you run at a 110 per cent all the time, you will not be as productive as you can be.”
The mental health and well-being of employees has taken the front seat in the corporate world, according to Richard Jackson, chief operating officer at staffing agency TASC Outsourcing.
Over the past 12 months, many businesses have arranged yoga and meditation workshops for their employees, he says.
“There has also been a global trend this year around a collective well-being paid time-off, where the whole organisation takes a break together so nobody returns to any internal emails or messages. It is a fantastic initiative to manage stress and to prevent burnout of their workforce,” Mr Jackson says.
Aside from the usual bonus schemes, Cafu will also soon offer an equity plan pegged to performance for the purpose of employee retention, according to Rashid Al Ghurair, the company's founder and chief executive.
“While the pandemic proved that working from anywhere is possible and productive, we also felt that there is significant value in coming together to engage with other team members to exchange ideas in person and experience the spirit of the company," Mr Al Ghurair says.
"With this in mind, Cafu is now looking at a hybrid work model – a combination of work from anywhere as well as a multifunctional space, where the team can come together to collaborate in person as and when they need to.”
The start-up currently hires a meeting room in a hotel for leadership team meetings, according to Mr Rodgers. There are also regular catch-ups on Microsoft Teams and weekly Cafu meets, where all employees join online. These sessions are recorded and shared with pilots, he says.
New employees are also given an extensive digital induction process to meet colleagues and a goody bag that not only contains the equipment they need to work but also branded items to help them feel part of the Cafu family, Mr Al Ghurair says.
“Pre-pandemic, there were limited perks on offer to employees, depending on the company and role. This typically included flights, housing allowance or schooling, with medical cover as a legal requirement. It is only since the pandemic that employers have enhanced their employee benefits to remain competitive in a challenging, candidate-short market,” says Zahra Clark, head of Mena operations at Dubai-based recruitment agency Tiger Recruitment.
With a much greater focus on work-life balance after Covid-19, companies are increasingly offering employees health-related perks such as wellness allowances to buy gym equipment or pay for gym memberships, Ms Clark says.
Employees working for government entities, large leading companies or in private equity can expect the best perks, she says.
Industries such as e-commerce, technology, IT and aviation, as well as many unicorn start-ups, offer the best employee perks, says Mr Jackson.
“Prospective employees are also more discerning on salary and we are seeing record numbers of counter offers being made as employers fight to retain staff rather than foot the cost of re-recruiting and retraining,” Ms Clark says.
The work-life balance is now playing a much greater role in job acceptance and if an employer does not offer the flexibility a candidate wants, they will find another job that does, she says.
“Aspirations have definitely changed and rightly so. Employees are not settling for the bare minimum any more and in such a competitive market, not only attracting but retaining talent is also equally critical,” Mr Jackson says.
Another company that was included in LinkedIn’s list of best UAE start-ups to work for is cloud kitchen platform Kitopi.
The company, which employs more than 3,000 staff, considers its “work from anywhere” culture, internal mobility and growth as the strongest employee value propositions that differentiate it from other employers.
“In July 2020, Kitopi launched its work-from-anywhere policy in the middle of the pandemic,” says Mohamad Ballout, chief executive of Kitopi.
"Our work-from-anywhere policy not only allows employees to remotely work from home but also allows them to work from any geographic location, so long as the work arrangement does not have any negative impact on work output and collaboration and does not breach any legal requirements.”
While this policy was first unveiled to ensure the safety of Kitopi employees during the pandemic, it increased productivity, engagement and employee satisfaction.
Employees also reported feeling more empowered as it enabled them to find a better work-life balance and be more efficient and happy in all aspects of life, Mr Ballout says.
Kitopi also offers structured and tailored training to new hires at every level. Employees are encouraged to make use of self-service learning platforms such as LinkedIn Learning and Mind Valley.
“Our development programmes encompass employees at every level: from entry-level employees to mid-level managers to senior leaders. Our programmes have helped employees move up the career ladder at an accelerated pace, with employees receiving up to two promotions within a year,” Mr Ballout says.
Growth is also not only linear at this cloud kitchen start-up. Employees across all levels have the flexibility to move cross-functionally, the chief executive says.
For instance, an employee who applied for a dispatcher's role in one of Kitopi’s kitchens was eventually hired as a payroll and employee relations assistant after interviewers learnt of his human resources experience.
Similarly, sustainable energy company Yellow Door Energy, another UAE start-up endorsed by LinkedIn for its work culture, prioritises employee engagement.
“We understand that when people feel valued, appreciated and included, they are more motivated to perform to the best of their abilities,” says Sabrina Gobet, vice president of human resources at Yellow Door Energy.
The start-up does not have a clock-in, clock-out culture. Instead, “we trust our employees to do what they need to do. Having trust in our team members is an integral part of our work culture”.
Other employee-friendly policies include a two weeks of paternity leave, extended maternity leave, compassionate leave, flexible hours, the option to work from home from time to time and employee awards ceremonies.
The start-up, which follows a hybrid work model, created a weekly sign-up sheet whereby every desk is treated as a “hot desk” and taken on a “first come, first served” basis.
“Even our chief executive and senior executives offered their offices as a way to alleviate the high demand for desks,” Ms Gobet says.
Yellow Door Energy recently conducted a survey among employees to seek their feedback on having a month of fun, fitness and well-being. Based on the responses, the start-up is formulating an agenda of activities for employee engagement, she says.
“Every month, we also hold a companywide All Hands meeting where our chief executive addresses employees’ questions and concerns. All our employees join the meeting, in person or virtually, and all voices are welcome to be heard,” Ms Gobet says.
Meanwhile, Deloitte, which was included in LinkedIn’s list of best UAE companies to work for in 2021, is focusing on diversity and inclusion, well-being, flexible working, office environment, company culture, corporate responsibility and, most importantly, a sense of purpose to enhance the employee experience, says Lamisse Muhtaseb, the consultancy's human resources director for the Middle East.
“The focus on diversity and inclusion is increasingly important to potential candidates and employees alike, including the representation of women in the workplace. We not only mentor women but also sponsor them to reach leadership positions,” Ms Muhtaseb says.
Companies must provide resources for employees to grow and be entrepreneurial through mentoring programmes, leadership engagement and learning platforms, she says.
Another employee-friendly company in the UAE cited by LinkedIn is PricewaterhouseCoopers. Taking cognisance of the focus on employee mental health, PwC trained and certified more than 100 of its employees as “mental health first aiders” and appointed a chief well-being officer.
“We have put people at the heart of our firm’s strategy, prioritising their needs to live a balanced life, to feel connected with a greater sense of belonging, unlocking their potential with learning and development and aligned with new ways of working,” says Mona Abou Hana, chief people officer and consulting partner at PwC.
The company invested more than $20 million to upskill employees to interact with digital tools and technology and started mentorship and sponsorship programmes, she says.
Aiming to enable an outcome-based approach for life and work to coexist harmoniously, PwC’s new office space in the UAE is designed to be a collaborative environment to stimulate creativity and innovation.
“Unburdened by restrictive hours or seating, the space is aligned with our flexibility framework. The first floor, complete with a cafeteria, cafe, well-being centre and nursing facilities, recognises that life goes on even in a typical work day and we want to empower our people to find the right balance for themselves,” Ms Abou Hana says.
Meanwhile, food delivery company Zomato offers 10 days of period leave for all female employees.
"It is our job to make sure that we make room for our biological needs, while not lowering the bar for the quality of our work and the impact that we create," Deepinder Goyal, founder and chief executive of Zomato, wrote in a blog post.
Best employee perks in the UAE
- Work-from-anywhere policy
- Self-care, house shifting, marriage, maternity and paternity leave
- Yoga and meditation workshops
- Paid well-being time-off
- Wellness allowances to buy gym equipment or pay for gym membership
- Access to self-service learning platforms and tailored training programmes
- Flexible hours
- Options to work from home from time to time
- Opportunities for internal mobility and growth
- Upskilling programmes
- Employee awards programmes
How to negotiate employee perks in an interview
- What do you bring to the table? Before you begin negotiating, it is vital to know what your value is. It is helpful to identify and communicate how and where you can connect your value to the company’s needs. By articulating this, your arguments become compelling.
- Do your research. By conducting due diligence on market salary standards and perks, you can have an informed conversation with your interviewer.
- Being transparent is key. Being transparent from the beginning builds trust and between you and your employer. Open and honest discussions about salary expectations early on are not something to be worried about; they should be encouraged.
- This is a conversation. It is easy to keep speaking when you are nervous in an interview. But after laying out your demands, it is powerful to allow the interviewer to fill in the space. Although they can decline, it allows you to process and craft a counter-altered demand (perhaps more perks in place of higher pay).
- Be respectful and likeable. Anything you do that portrays you as less likeable significantly drops the chances of a successful negotiation. In contrast, showing respect and being kind can influence or give them an incentive to agree to your demands.
Arda Atalay, head of private sector at LinkedIn Mena