Shorter work hours and patriotism main reasons Emiratis prefer public-sector jobs: study

Shorter work hours and belief they are contributing to their country's development are the main reasons many Emiratis continue to choose goverment jobs over those in the private sector, study finds.

ABU DHABI // Emiratis are shunning jobs in the private sector because they prefer the perceived favourable working conditions of the public sector, but they also view government jobs as patriotic.

Last year, 5.8 per cent of working Emiratis in the emirate were employed by the private sector, according to the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi. The vast majority of nationals in the labour force, 76.6 per cent, were employed by the Government, while 16.6 per cent worked for semi-government agencies.

Meanwhile, expatriates and Emiratis in the 20 to 24 year age group “accounted for the largest percentage of unemployed people at 24.6 per cent”, according to the centre.

Of all adults capable of working between the ages of 25 and 29, 18.3 per cent were unemployed last year, according to Scad.

In her research paper Holistic Sustainability as Key to Emiratisation: Links between Job Satisfaction in the Private Sector and Young Emirati Adult Unemployment, academic Georgia Daleure sought to identify factors that contribute to Emirati job satisfaction.

“The study sheds light on the obvious question, ‘Why would Emirati youth prefer to remain unemployed when so many private sector jobs are available?” wrote Dr Daleure.

One of the open-ended questions Dr Daleure posed in the online survey she issued to 1,157 Emiratis asked why they chose or avoided work in the private sector.

“The most common response related to the beliefs that the public sector had much better salaries, benefits and working conditions than the private sector,” Dr Daleure wrote. “The most important working condition cited was shorter working hours, with many respondents adding comments similar to ‘shorter working hours help me take care of my family’.”

According to Scad, a majority of Emiratis, 75.5 per cent, worked between 21 and 40 hours per week in 2015. Meanwhile, only 15.8 per cent of expatriates worked between 21 and 40 hours per week. Most expatriates worked longer hours, as 27.1 per cent worked between 41 and 48 hours per week and another 56.2 worked more than 56.2 hours per week, according to Scad.

“The second most common response was related to a belief that working in the public sector helped contribute to the development of the country more than working in the private sector,” Dr Daleure wrote.

Harish Bhatia, associate director for the research and recruitment firm Korn Ferry Hay, agreed with the findings.

“The candidates are often coming with a viewpoint that working with the Government is almost like contributing to society and the nation,” said Mr Bhatia. “The young population is very much looking to contribute to the country and nation, to make a difference. They feel like they’re giving back to the country. That’s one of the motives, to say that we work for the government and work for the country, rather than the private sector that perhaps may be multinational or international.”

But Sulaf Saleh Al-Zubi, chief executive of Injaz UAE, a non-profit business education organisation that partners the private sector to teach pupils business skills, said Emiratis should value private sector work.

“Why would you want to work for the private sector? I would say look at your inspiring leadership,” said Ms Al-Zubi, noting the many private sector projects and companies that have been spurred by the Government.

“The leadership vision is to position the UAE to be the top or one of the top global business leaders – definitely they are the top in the region, definitely they’re setting precedence and best practices – it’s an inspiring leadership. So one of the things that I would tell young Emiratis is that when you’re working for the private sector you are supporting your own country by fulfilling that vision of positioning the UAE as a leader in economics and business.”

Dr Daleure said that more awareness needs to be raised of the important and benefits of increasing Emirati employment in the private sector, particularly as competition for fewer government jobs grow. Furthermore, she suggests offering incentives for community-based work experience and work placement in the private sector.

“You can incentivise the private sector and specific sectors to accept more nationals and coach them and train them as part of their duty to be in this country and do business in this country,” said Mr Bhatia.