Half of all UAE workers plan to switch jobs in 2021

A higher salary is the key reason employees are looking for new roles, new report finds

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Half of all employees in the UAE expect to move to a new job over the next 12 months, with salary the number one reason to switch jobs in 2021, according to a new survey by global recruitment agency Hays. This comes after a tumultuous 2020, when the hiring market was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and many employers were forced to make redundancies and freeze staffing budgets to reduce costs and remain operational.

Despite the challenging conditions, 57 per cent of UAE employees said they feel positive about their career prospects in 2021, according to the Hays 2021 Salary & Employment Report, which surveyed more than 3,500 employers and employees across the Gulf in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Respondents said job security and flexible working options, such as remote working, are key factors if they decided to stay with their current employer, while 45 per cent expect their salaries to increase this year, the study found.

“As ever, when it comes to salaries, it has been a mixed picture for professionals in the region,” Chris Greaves, managing director of Hays Gulf region, said on Wednesday. “With the outbreak of Covid-19 and associated movement restrictions enforced in our personal lives, it may be easy to assume that we were all similarly impacted in our professional lives but, as our survey shows, this is just not the case.”

While 33 per cent of UAE employees’ salaries increased by about 5 per cent in 2020, 14 per cent of professionals’ pay decreased due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the survey said.

Across the Gulf, 48 per cent of employees said their salaries remained unchanged in 2020, 34 per cent said pay increased compared with 2019 and 18 per cent said it decreased. Among those who took a pay cut, the majority said it was in direct response to the pandemic, but their salaries were restored to pre-Covid-19 levels by the end of last year.

The recruiter expects the majority of salaries to remain unchanged in 2021 and increases to be paid to only those hitting required performance targets.

This is echoed by employees across the Gulf, with 50 per cent expecting their salary to remain the same in 2021, while 46 per cent say their pay will increase and 4 per cent expect a decrease.

In terms of other benefits, fewer organisations are offering education allowances to those starting new jobs in the region than in previous years, the report found. Organisations are trying to save on costs by paying education allowances only to senior professionals. Remote hiring has also emerged as a popular means to on-board new talent, as travel restrictions in response to Covid-19 made relocating new employees from their home countries difficult.

The report also found that IT and technology professionals received the biggest pay increases in 2020, while those in office support and administration roles had the lowest.

Demand and salaries for tech professionals have been relatively high as the need for automation is more crucial than ever in enabling organisations to remain competitive in their respective markets

“Demand and salaries for tech professionals have been relatively high as the need for automation is more crucial than ever in enabling organisations to remain competitive in their respective markets,” Mr Greaves said.

“Employers are willing to pay high salaries for the top tech talent to ensure they are set up as efficiently as possible for business going forward. In contrast, demand and salaries for office support and administrative roles have decreased as the pandemic forced the closure of many offices during lockdown and this, along with the shift to more home and remote working, has made many of these roles redundant.”

The recruiter said the most in-demand professionals in the market include IT specialists with digital technology and data-driven skill sets. Meanwhile, 70 per cent of UAE employers anticipate a skills shortage this year, with managerial/leadership skills expected to be scarce.

Telecoms, pharmaceuticals and life sciences, and banking and financial services were the three most robust industries in 2020, with only 6 per cent of employees in these sectors experiencing a pay cut. In contrast, the four sectors with the highest level of salary reductions were aviation, hospitality and tourism, engineering and property.

However, Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, with the construction sector seeing robust hiring. This is attributed to the government’s drive to diversify the economy under its Vision 2030 programme.

Meanwhile, 49 per cent of all UAE employers said they expect staffing levels in their company to increase in 2021 because of an improvement in market conditions.

Eighty per cent of employers across the Gulf said their company was already in either recovery, business as usual, or a growth phase, and 64 per cent of them said they plan to hire additional staff this year.

“Business activity picked up across all sectors towards the end of 2020 and we believe this momentum will continue over the coming months,” Mr Greaves added.