Why culture is just as important as flexible hours to retain employees

Integrity, hard work and respect make for a great working environment, along with add-ons such as a coffee machine and pool table

Work-life balance and salary are important for employees, but they are really more interested in the culture of companies. Getty
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We have all seen reports of good employees leaving companies in droves in this post-pandemic environment. Surely, there is more to it than just flexible working hours?

Companies insisting their staff return to their desks post-Covid is just the tip of the iceberg, but these are some of the first organisations employees want to leave.

After 15 years of living and recruiting in the Middle East, I have not seen such a significant shift in the living and working patterns of everyday people in such a short space of time.


Watch: some of the stats behind the UAE's hiring boom

Some of the stats behind the UAE's hiring boom

Some of the stats behind the UAE's hiring boom

In 2020, the vast majority of people in the UAE (and globally) were clinging on to their jobs and, in many cases, had to accept reductions in salaries.

Fast-forward nearly three years and we are now seeing the complete opposite — employers are dealing with staff who have two or three job offers on the table and, in some cases, offering attractive counter-offers to try to retain them.

A survey last month by jobs portal Bayt.com and market research company YouGov found that 70 per cent of UAE employers plan to hire in 2023, which is a positive outlook in comparison to 2020.

Is it all about the money then? No. Work-life balance and salary are obviously very important, but it’s really the culture of companies that people are more interested in these days.

What is their “why”, what do they stand for? Culture is not about having bean bags and a place to play table tennis (although these are great!)

There is a growing trend of hybrid or flexi working, where employees are given the opportunity to choose when they work from home and when they come to the office.

In the US, 77 per cent of organisations interviewed by workplace platform Envoy said they had already made this their company policy.

So, how can an employer be an attractive proposition in such a candidate-driven market?

There used to be an expectation from employers that the employee needed them, but unless you are an Apple or a Google, you might not have people queuing up to work for you.

Instead of seeing whether a candidate fits in to the company, why not see how the employer can be a good fit for the employee?

Need to start work at 10am on Tuesdays and Thursdays because you have yoga classes? Great! Maybe bring some colleagues along so they can benefit from it, too.

Don’t want to take calls after 6.30pm because you’re spending time with your kids? No problem, family comes first. Need to pop out at 3pm to walk the dog? Sure.

It is also important to celebrate the wins, no matter how small — and recognise and reward employees for their efforts.

If this is ingrained into the culture of the business, it will be a constant reminder to everyone that their work is appreciated. This will improve employee morale and make people less likely to quit for a 10 to 15 per cent salary increase from a competitor.

Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is how employers handled the Covid-19 crisis. Many people had to take salary cuts during the pandemic, but how well was it handled? Did they get rewarded for their loyalty once the economy picked up?

If an employee felt they took the cuts for the greater good of the business rather than for the pockets of the business owner, then they will feel a greater sense of loyalty.

Many of us work in a high-pressure environment and if an urgent job needs doing, we will get it done. That said, we should also respect each other’s personal time and space.

In today’s world, mental well-being isn’t and shouldn’t be a nice-to-have or something for a corporate social responsibility brochure. Instead, it should be at the forefront of every organisation from the top down.


Top 15 companies to work for in the UAE, according to LinkedIn — in pictures

We all hope there won’t be another global pandemic any time soon, but of course there will be challenges ahead for people and the wider community. How employers are prepared to look after their staff during these times of hardship will define them.

A culture of integrity, hard work and respect is always a good starting point for a great working environment — a great coffee machine and a pool table don’t do too much harm either.

John Armstrong is founder and managing director of recruitment agency JCA Associates

Updated: October 17, 2022, 4:29 AM