UAE may yet see 'Great Resignation' in workplaces, recruiters say

Not enough to simply increase salaries anymore, say HR and recruitment specialists

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Companies are being forced to get creative to retain staff who are considering making a move, thanks to the “Great Resignation".

The term, coined by Anthony Klotz, a psychologist and professor at Texas A&M University, refers to the global trend of employees rethinking their career options since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many re-evaluating their careers due to the flexibility their new situations offered.

A survey by recruitment firm Robert Walters found that two thirds of professionals are looking to move jobs in the first half of the year.

It also said a significant number held on to their jobs in anticipation of a bonus and pay rise in 2022.

Staff have had a taste of better work-life balances and are reconsidering what they will accept in their careers
Vijay Gandhi, Korn Ferry

“Any companies who did not adequately reward their staff at the beginning of this year have potentially put themselves at risk of losing some of their best assets,” said Jason Grundy, managing director of Robert Walters Middle East and Africa — the group behind the study.

“They consequently will find themselves in a bidding war for their own employees as the market continues to heat up.

“If pay increases are not on the agenda, then it is crucial that managers check in with their team to get an idea of career plans and how they as an employer can assist.”

Employment experts told The National that firms were having to think outside of the box to keep hold of staff tempted to change employers or take an extended break from the workplace.

A Dubai-based recruitment expert said companies were scrambling to retain staff as the market begins to recover from the pandemic, with firms actively recruiting again.

“We’ve seen a rise in the number of people getting pay rises in recent months,” said David Mackenzie, group managing director of recruitment agency Mackenzie Jones.

“Companies are realising they’ve got to keep their talent.”

He warned it was not enough to give pay rises to employees considering moving elsewhere.

“It might keep them in the short term but they are likely to leave after six months,” he said.

“Money is not the reason staff ultimately stay at a company.

“It’s the atmosphere, environment and culture of the workplace that matters most when trying to keep people happy.”

Companies in the UAE have had to look at alternatives to ramping up salary packages, he said.

“They are thinking about how to keep good talent and incentivise them,” said Mr Mackenzie.

“Offering pay reviews and learning support are some of the ways they have been trying to retain staff.

“In some cases, they have even offered free parking spaces to try to persuade employees not to move on.”

Firms have also offered staff loyalty bonuses, with higher payments for each year they stay, he added.

“There are a lot of jobs out there right now and there are not enough candidates,” said Mr Mackenzie.

The issue is a global one, with reports from all over the world on how firms are struggling to both retain and attract staff during the Great Resignation.

The number of workers quitting their jobs in the US exceeded pre-pandemic levels for eight consecutive months, consumer data company Statista found.

A German insurance technology firm, Deutsche Familienversicherung, was offering €500 to anyone it interviewed, with the number doubling for those who were asked back for a second interview.

And anyone who completes six-month probation with the firm will receive a payment of €5,000.

UAE Salary Guide

One emerging trend is people in the UAE applying for jobs to force their employers to match any offer, said Vijay Gandhi, a director with HR and recruitment firm Korn Ferry.

“There has been a rise in the number of people going for interviews, being successful and then pulling out at the last minute when their current employer matches the salary offer,” Mr Gandhi said.

“We are seeing increasingly that job offers are being used as bargaining power with an employer.”

He said the jobs market was opening up after firms had tightened their belts during the pandemic, which, coupled with staff working from home, empowered employees to reconsider their positions.

“Staff have had a taste of better work-life balances and are reconsidering what they will accept in their careers,” said Mr Gandhi, who added that being forced to work longer hours “is no longer tolerated by the likes of Gen X and millennials".

About 56 per cent of employees in the UAE expect to change jobs in 2022, the results of a recent survey by recruitment firm Hays showed.

This was up from last year, when 48 per cent had the same aspiration, but down from 2019, before the pandemic hit, when 60 per cent planned to leave their companies.

The firm’s managing director in the Gulf said the Great Resignation would not hit this region as hard but employers could not rest on their laurels.

“Retaining top performers is and always has been a challenge for employers the world over,” said Sarah Dixon, managing director of Hays Gulf region.

“In the UAE, attraction and retention of staff used to be all about salaries and financial compensation.

“While salary is still very important, employees have become more intent on non-financial benefits and the overall company culture than previous years.”

Companies more relaxed about replacing staff because it was common for hundreds, even thousands, to apply for vacancies in the UAE is a risky strategy, she added.

“It is true that the UAE is a very candidate-heavy market relative to the rest of world, however staff turnover is always a worry to employers, regardless of how many jobs seekers there are in the local market,” Ms Dixon said.

“Staff turnover is costly both in time and money, with training and upskilling new employees, but it also has negative impacts on a company’s reputation and culture.

“It is not easy to replace reliable, capable members of staff and employee retention is a significant focus for employers in the region.”

HR consultant Claire Donnelly said firms would have to worry less about staff jumping ship if they made more effort to ensure they felt included.

“People get more engaged when they understand how they fit into a company and how their role affects the overall performance,” said Ms Donnelly.

“If everyone’s on board with the same goals and values it is a big help, people want to feel more than just a resource.”

Updated: February 26, 2022, 3:10 AM