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Blog : Engagement through purpose


Engagement through purpose

By Lynne Zarbhanelian, Managing Director, learnpurple UAE


I recently read a report which revealed that over a quarter of the UK workforce is willing to move abroad to find a better job.  The GfK International Employee Engagement Study found that not only are people tempted by sunnier climes but feel that places such as the United Arab Emirates will provide them with  better job prospects and feel they would perform better in employment less effected by the Global recession.

I have been living out here in Dubai for the past 18 years and I have to admit that yes things are sunnier here than back in the UK, and I am not just talking of the climate. (24° as a I write).The healthy economy can be seen all around - I have seen a great deal of change happening, lots of construction, many more buildings, hotels, shopping malls, roads, businesses, the metro, people, traffic etc. It is a very attractive option to move out here.

One of the reasons why there are so many opportunities for emigrates in the UAE is because the locals are not attracted to private sector work – most work in government or semi government positions. Private sector work is not as attractive to the local workforce as they perceive the sector to have lower incentives and benefits. Conversely to those looking for engaging work in a sunshine state – this is a fortuitous situation and for a very long while this has been mutually beneficial to all. Employee engagement figures in Dubai have historically always been very high.

So, it may seem odd when I say that despite the fact we are warmer than the UK and less effected by the global downturn that on the subject of employee engagement we have some challenging times ahead.

A policy called “Emiratisation” has been introduced across the gulf and an organisation called the Emirates Nationals Development Programme (ENDP). The objective of the ENDP is to integrate young UAE Nationals into the workforce that is currently engaged in building the country’s future. Then they will assign the training programmes necessary to be better prepared in terms of knowledge and skills in order to suit the needs of the private sector. The plan is to have ‘Emiratised’ at least 30% of the work force by 2016 and ENDP are working in partnership with private companies to this end.

However great the challenge of the Emiratisation programme, there is another more immediate challenge that has come to light.

Right now, the very successful private sector companies that dominate the skyline of Dubai are being run and maintained primarily by an expatriate workforce.  This is a work force who now know that if all goes to plan in 2016 it is probable that they will no longer be required.

We know from statistics that around 20% of any workforce are generally disengaged, but can you imagine how ineffective an organisation will be if that figure shoots up past 90%? This is something that could really happen if the current private sector workers become disengaged from their roles as many will be replaced by locals in a few years.

My question to the many companies who work with me is “What are you also doing for your current expatriate workforce to keep them engaged for the next five years?”

If this is handled correctly, most people will view it as a positive, after all there is no such thing as ‘jobs for life’ in an expatriate community and many of the replacements will come through natural attrition over the five year period anyhow.  I’ve been working with companies to help them understand that to keep their people engaged over the coming half decade is a challenge that must be prioritised. These companies now know they need to look at effectively making the people feel that they are part of the process of change, get them on board, and let them come up with the ideas and the plan.

This is proven time and again to be a very successful method of dealing with this challenge as ultimately, humans are motivated by purpose.  This was looked at in depth by Sally Brand in her article Something more than carrots  last month.

One of our key values here at learnpurple is ‘trust & openness’, and it is never more valuable when you are dealing with emotive issues such as job stability. It is proven that trusting your team and being open with them is so vital in a situation like this.  In short, ensure the current workforce have that ‘purpose’ and are actively involved and you ensure an engaged workforce.

And that is true whether it is 24° in Dubai or 6° in London!


What do you do to ensure your employees are engaged? How open and trusting are you with your people?

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