Dubai, United Arab Emirates — The evolving state of the work landscape in the Middle East, particularly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is undergoing significant changes. With one in four employees switching jobs in the past year, retaining talent is becoming a top priority for employers. New research, commissioned by Zurich International Life in the Middle East and conducted by market research company Radius Insights, highlights the vital role of employee benefits in retaining and attracting talent in a competitive market.
The research, conducted in July and August 2023, surveyed 2,507 respondents in the UAE and KSA, of which 1,255 were employers and 1,252 employees. It aims to shed light on how central aspects of the work landscape, such as talent shortage, employee benefits and workplace culture, have evolved in the region over the past year.
Factors Driving Job Change
A remarkable 25% of employees in the UAE and KSA have changed jobs in the last year, drawn by better remuneration, enhanced employee benefits, and professional advancement opportunities. This trend is gaining momentum, with most employees expressing a strong intent to explore new job opportunities in the next 12 to 18 months. In KSA, 78% of employees are considering changing jobs, with a similar sentiment shared by 74% of their UAE counterparts. Notably, women and younger employees in the 25-34 age group are particularly proactive in exploring new career opportunities.
Flexibility within the workplace emerges as a key factor when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, from both an employer and employee perspective. Other critical factors relate to the importance of having a diverse workforce and addressing pay gaps in the market. With a clear call for action and strategy to retain talent, the UAE government is also contributing with a range of initiatives to solidify its standing as a preferred destination for global talent. Some of the notable reforms introduced include an investment-related end-of-service benefit scheme for private sector employees, unemployment insurance, the adoption of a condensed working week and new categories of leaves.
Talent Shortage Looms Amid Dissatisfaction with Employee Benefits
Both the UAE and KSA are grappling with a significant talent shortage, standing at approximately 24% and 30%, respectively. This shortage is most pronounced in the Operations and Logistics sectors in both countries. Employers are increasingly aware of the impending impact of this talent shortage on their operations. New Emiratization laws for the private sector further complicate the talent acquisition landscape, affecting employers’ ability to find the right talent fit.
When it comes to employee benefits, there’s a clear gap observed between what employers currently offer and what employees wish to receive, with more than one-third of employees in the UAE and KSA expressing dissatisfaction with their current employee benefits packages, especially concerning workplace savings, financial wellbeing education, life insurance, child education allowances and critical illness cover.
Understanding Employee Priorities
Employee benefits remain central to establishing long-term relationships between employers and employees, with nearly 9 out of 10 employees surveyed considering employee benefits an extremely important pillar, often surpassing the importance of salary.
Contributing her views on the research insights, Swarnaleka Shetty Vyas, Head of Sales & Distribution, Corporate Life & Pensions at Zurich International Life, emphasized “In a dynamic work environment, fostering employee retention requires focus on not just financial rewards but also aligning values and nurturing a cohesive work culture. Right from prioritizing the mental well-being of employees to implementing long-term incentive plans, all of it will contribute immensely to retaining talent.” Vyas further highlighted the growing significance of financial wellness and trust among employees, underscoring the need for collaborative efforts to shape a promising positive future of work culture.
The Role of Employee Benefits
The research underscores the pivotal role of employee benefits in attracting and retaining talent. An overwhelming 84% of employees surveyed stated they would willingly change jobs for a new role with the same pay but better employee benefits. Employers must thus adapt to changing needs by introducing employee benefits that address critical goals valued most by employees.
Adam Watterson, Senior Executive Officer at Zurich Workplace Solutions, said: “Employee benefits have taken centre stage and are rapidly evolving, pushing employers to adopt a holistic approach to talent retention. One of the trending areas is workplace savings and pensions for expatriates concerned about their retirement planning. End-of-service benefits will play a pivotal role in drawing talent from international markets and fostering financial stability. The global pandemic drove both employers and employees to rethink priorities, and employers have become more accommodative to include mutually beneficial retention policies.”
The immense revelation for employers in the UAE and KSA is the remarkable transformation in employee motivation, where enhanced employee benefits now surpass competitive pay as the key driver for talent attraction and retention. Employers must proactively reassess and elevate their employee benefits packages, with a laser focus on critical aspects such as workplace savings, financial well-being education, life insurance, child education allowance and critical illness cover. The shift in employee priorities does not only gives employers an opportunity to position themselves as an employer of choice but also helps them build enduring mutually beneficial relationships with employees in a fiercely competitive job market.