Retaining talent requires culture change from regional enterprises
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Retaining talent requires culture change from regional enterprises

Retaining talent requires culture change from regional enterprises

Through careful, thoughtful management, organisations can leverage the hybrid working space to satisfy the preferences of a digital workforce

Ayman Kattan

The region’s talent market has undergone significant changes in the past 18 months. Middle East recruitment specialist Hays conducted a survey earlier this year among business leaders in the Arab Gulf region. Some 82 per cent said their companies were either already on the road to recovery or had returned to post-covid activity levels or better. As a result, almost two thirds expect to increase their staffing levels in 2021 and almost half are eyeing salary increases. But at the same time, among employees surveyed for the same study, 78 per cent said they were in favour of greater working flexibility.

Before Covid-19 forced a mass proof of concept for remote working, regional employers only had to contend with persistent skills gaps and competition from regional peers. But now, knowledge workers who feel they can work from anywhere are presenting themselves as candidates to companies across the globe. So GCC companies must attract talent — and retain it — by outperforming rivals from the Americas, Europe and elsewhere in Asia.

Millennials and Gen Z expect more from organisations. And remote work has provided the means to fulfil their demands. Through careful, thoughtful management, organisations can leverage the hybrid working space to satisfy the preferences of a digital workforce. In doing so they may discover that things once considered perks (such as gym memberships, mental health services, and flexible leave) are now key differentiators in a rapidly expanding labour market.

Stemming the virtual brain-drain

But these perks are just a few examples of the kinds of expectations prevalent among the new-normal labour pool. And the ability to meet these conditions, and others, will mean the difference between local talent boosting local GDP or boosting that of some other nation, even as the worker remains in their country of origin.

In many cases, stalling or preventing a virtual brain-drain will involve a culture change. During the pandemic, lockdowns led to declines in emotional and financial wellbeing as employers looked to shore up their own defences, cut costs and increase productivity by overworking employees who were, at the same time, feeling the pinch of isolation. But as these companies emerge from the Covid tunnel and look to innovate, they will have to acquire and retain talent to do so.

HR leaders must consider how their organisation looks to candidates. In a sellers’ market such as the one that is taking shape, recruiters may do well to consider themselves as the candidate. How do you entice younger workers? Are you looking into (as many now are) new perks, open-leave policies, and tailor-made employee benefits?

Inputs vs outputs

Culture changes within larger organisations are never easy, but younger local companies are still agile enough to pivot, thereby capturing the talent that is sorely needed for competitiveness. Those enterprises open to change should start by leaving behind one practice that can be counterproductive in acquiring and retaining qualified workers. Most companies value inputs rather than outputs. By casting off this legacy approach and focusing on outputs, the younger generations will respond. Consider that, in the new normal, hours or years spent working are no longer appropriate metrics. By making them actionable, organisations risk the wrong outcomes. But output metrics such as productivity, innovation, and softer effects such as an employee’s ability to inspire others or to solve problems, are better indicators of how that employee should progress within the enterprise.

By using these output metrics to assess performance, business leaders engender a culture of trust and inclusion. And by leaving the input metrics in the past, companies can finally deliver the flexibility that was impossible when input-mentality reigned.

The ‘openness’ factor

Effective and attractive cultures must also be open. Without frank communication, leaders cannot discover the mindset of their employees and discern their preferences. When regular dialogue is encouraged, employers have a starting point for further culture changes such as the personalising of benefits — something that younger employees are increasingly seeking out when deciding where to place their labour.

As more and more employees work from home, and new hires perform tasks and complete deliverables without ever meeting a colleague in person, strong leadership will be vitally important in the hybrid workplace. These post-covid leaders will have to use a variety of new techniques to maintain morale and make everyone feel part of the team, whether they are in the office or working remotely. They must make sure that open-door policies extend to the virtual world and never let a remote worker feel they are being overlooked. That is a sure way to lose talent.

Keeping a social environment (ideally supported by proprietary social platforms) — with simple things such as birthday mailers and regular group meetings that focus on personal issues — can go a long way towards building camaraderie in the workforce.

Happy = productive = innovative

By taking a benefits-oriented approach to employee welfare, and by ensuring that nobody is in danger of feeling like just a small cog in the corporate machinery, organisations are building the kind of culture that is sustainable. HR leaders who build the framework that attracts and retains the best talent are going to be corporate champions, having laid the groundwork for robust competitiveness in the global digital economy.

Ayman Kattan is the chief people officer at Bayzat

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