Work for a company or be your own boss? In the UAE it’s hard to decide

Entrepreneurial spirit is bubbling in the UAE, with almost as many people saying they would prefer to start their own businesses as those who prefer employment, a new survey finds.

A total of 47 per cent of people who participated in Bayt’s survey said they would prefer to work for themselves. Jeffrey Biteng / The National
Powered by automated translation

Those who earn money in the UAE are torn over whether they would prefer to be self-employed or work for a company, a new survey conducted by the Middle East job site and research firm YouGov has found.

A total of 47 per cent of people participating in the Entrepreneurship in the Middle East Survey said they would prefer to work for themselves; 48 per cent of respondents said they would favour employment. Of the rest, 3 per cent replied “other” and 2 per cent that they would prefer to work in a family business. conducted the survey to gauge the state the of the job market and workplace trends.

“The recent economic slowdown did impact how professionals viewed employment and it would be safe to say that this lead to a lot of enterprising professionals to take up the path of being self-employed,” says’s vice president for sales, Suhail Masri.

The results of the survey may reassure UAE government officials who are seeking to diversify the country’s economy away from oil and gas over the next 15 years. A large part of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 is focused on stimulating entrepreneurship and supporting start-ups.

The top reasons UAE respondents gave for wanting to work for a company, rather than be self-employed, are: the chance to learn new skills and techniques (45 per cent); the regular income offered by a salaried job (43 per cent); and the benefits working for a company offers, such as medical insurance (34 per cent).

For those in the Emirates who would prefer to pursue an entrepreneurial path, the number one reason is personal fulfilment (60 per cent), followed by the freedom to choose their own work-life balance (53 per cent) and the chance to be their own boss (42 per cent).

More than half — 53 per cent — of the respondents who are currently employed in the public or private sectors in the UAE are currently thinking of starting their own business, while 20 per cent have tried to start one in the past but failed to do so.

While the UAE Government has introduced policies and mechanisms to stimulate entrepreneurship, those starting businesses regularly cite complicated administrative processes and the lack of funding as barriers to setting up and growing their ventures. The findings of the survey reflect these obstacles.

A third of respondents in the Emirates claim that it is “somewhat difficult” to set up a new business in the UAE, with the unavailability of finance being the leading hindrance (64 per cent) in doing so. Strict government rules and regulations (37 per cent) are also perceived as difficult to overcome.

When asked what they perceive to be the top three things that would concern them if they were to set up their own business, the majority of UAE respondents chose “procuring finances to start” (62 per cent), “uncertainty of profit and income” (44 per cent) and “needing to establish the ‘right’ contacts” — or ‘wasta’” (36 per cent).

“It would seem there are issues standing in the way of people becoming self-employed,” says Mr Masri. “With finance being the number one problem across the Middle East, it suggests that the region needs more angel investors to step in and help local entrepreneurs. It might also be of benefit for authorities to reconsider their policies, as less stringent regulations could encourage the creation of more start-ups.”

The majority (54 per cent) of UAE respondents, however, claim to know between one and five entrepreneurs; 52 per cent of respondents say that of the entrepreneurs they know, “a few” are successful — 33 per cent say that the majority of entrepreneurs they know have achieved success.

Four in 10 (42 per cent) respondents in the UAE state that the best time to start your own business is mid-career, although 36 per cent claim that “any time” is the right time, with “don’t be afraid of failure” considered by the majority (39 per cent) to be the best advice to give to an entrepreneur.

In the UAE, the hospitality and leisure industry (19 per cent) is regarded as the most appealing for entrepreneurship, followed by finance, insurance and real estate (14 per cent), and, jointly with 13 per cent each, advertising, marketing and public relations, and architecture and engineering.

UAE respondents agree that their education has helped them develop an entrepreneurial attitude (71 per cent), acquire the necessary skills and know-how to become an entrepreneur and understand the role entrepreneurs play in society (68 per cent), as well as made them interested in becoming an entrepreneur (64 per cent).

Data for the survey was collected online from September 1 to 15, with 8,776 respondents from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.