How can MENA Employers improve Happiness & Employee Engagement at Work?

Arab Business Review
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5 min
  • Happy and engaged employees are an invaluable asset to any organization, as such employees are more effective at work and are also less likely to leave their employers. And contrary to perception, nurturing happy employees takes less investment but more intent on behalf of employers.
  • Recognition of work is the key workplace happiness driver for MENA employees, followed by training and career development opportunities, and personal fulfilment.
  • MENA employers need to adopt a proactive and continuous employee engagement approach to increase the happiness at work quotient for its employees. Some steps could include: celebrating employee achievements and thanking them for their contributions, developing personal development and career counselling programmes, using technological platforms to increase collaboration and sharing of ideas, ensuring transparent communication, celebrating key festivals, and engaging in CSR activities.

Happy and engaged employees are an invaluable asset to any organization.  Employees are one of the key stakeholders in any organization, if not the most important stakeholder, and just like happy customers ensure sustainable demand for a company’s products and services, happy employees ensure smooth and sustainable delivery of those products and services. New research by ADP shows that happy and engaged employees are not only 57% more effective; they’re also 87% less likely to leave their employers. On the other hand, an average company loses $2,246 per disengaged employee every year.  Therefore, employers worldwide need to understand the importance of happy employees, and take employee engagement initiatives that keep their employees happy, and motivated.

Contrary to perception, nurturing happy employees takes less investment but more intent. Traditionally, companies used to like employee happiness with the monetary benefits. However, recently companies have started taking initiatives to promote work-life balance to keep the employees happy. While both monetary benefits and work-life balance will always contribute towards overall happiness of the employee, but they might not be the only drivers for happiness at work. Examples of other drivers include recognition at workplace, learning opportunities, global exposure, challenging work, etc. To understand other drivers, companies need to understand what drives their respective employees, and then take appropriate proactive measures to build a work culture that engages employees and keeps them motivated.

Recognition of work is the key workplace happiness driver for MENA employees. A 2013 report by measuring employee motivation in MENA region indicates that only 32% employees feel highly motivated in doing their everyday work, and the number reduces to 30% in North African countries. Alarmingly, 22% employees in the MENA region are not motivated to do their, cutting a sorry picture of employee motivation among MENA employees. However, MENA employers do not need to go far to figure out the solution to improve this situation – when asked to cite variables that most strongly drive motivation for work, outside of compensation, the top 5 drivers listed by MENA employees are listed in the table below. Therefore, it is important for MENA employers to focus on these drivers and take the necessary steps to improve happiness and employee engagement at work.

Top 5 Motivation Drivers Besides Pay – MENA Employees
Recognition of Work and Achievement
Training and Development Opportunities
Opportunity for career advancement
Feeling that my work has an impact
Personal Fulfilment
Source: Bayt MENA Employee Motivation Report 2013

MENA employers need to adopt a proactive and continuous employee engagement approach to increase the happiness at work quotient for its employees: As mentioned earlier, the above drivers can be addressed by simple employee engagement initiatives, driven by the top management and the HR function at organizations. Here are some steps MENA employers can take to promote happiness at work:

Celebrate employee achievements and thank them for their contributions: It is human tendency to enjoy having their hard work recognized and this is the simplest employee engagement initiative that can be adopted by any organization. MENA organizations should make celebrating employee achievements publically, a part of their work culture. This not only gives a boost to the employee whose efforts are getting recognized, but it also drives other employees to work harder for the want of similar recognition. The celebration can be in the form of periodic reward functions, announcements in the workplace, displaying name or photograph in the work area, company publications or company website. DHL, which has been a leading employer in the region as per different surveys, has a culture of thanking employees through monetary rewards, honoring top performers at its annual events and pinning notes of appreciation on the company corkboard.

Develop personal development programmes for employees: The Learning and Development functions at any organization have a big role to play in engaging employees. They need create a balanced mix of training programmes for employees that lead to 360 degree development of their employees. Such programmes can be very effective because employees feel that the organization cares for their development outside of their job requirements. Examples of such programmes can be trainings on communication skills and time management.

Provide career counselling to employees: Not only is this an effective way of ensuring that your employee’s goals are aligned with your organizations goals, it is also symbolic of the company’s commitment towards employee growth, and shows employees there’s a future for them. While at the face of it, this may seem like an initiative that will benefit the employee only, in the long run it is also very effective for MENA employers who will benefit from having employees focused on career growth in certain direction, thereby creating pockets of expertise and competence within the organization.

Use technological platforms to increase collaboration and sharing of ideas, and promote transparent communication. HR departments in the region should figure out ways to leverage technology to create an environment of connectedness with other employees, the company vision and management. There are several options available:

  1. Social Intranets: In a world of Twitter and Facebook, companies will only benefit if they can invest in an engaging social intranet making it easy for employees to connect with each other on any device, at any time.
  2. Immersive collaboration tools: Collaboration tools such as Google Apps can be used to bring collaboration into productivity applications. This can help break the silos of a traditional workplace and allow multiple employees to closely work on same projects at the same time.
  3. Real-time feedback systems: Systems like that allow employees to give each other real-time feedback are replacing traditional Performance Management Systems that were employed by organizations. 

Celebrate festivals: Nationalist and religious feelings are particularly strong among the employees of Middle East region, and companies can leverage this to engage employees by organizing special functions for religious festivals and on days of national importance. Employees feel that their employers respect their religion and values and hence develop greater affinity towards their employers.

Engage in CSR activities. Surveys show that MENA employees prefer employers that engage in CSR activities, as it makes them feel that they are giving back to the society. Therefore, it is important for organizations to start/increase CSR activities and also involve employees in such activities, as opposed to simply donating to a certain cause. Examples could include literacy drives, support for environmental causes, feeding/clothing the poor, and other community initiatives.

Case Study: National Day Celebration by Zain Bahrain

Zain Bahrain celebrated the Kingdom’s National Day in a festive event held at the Business and Professional Women Club (BPW) located in Al Jasra. 

The fun-filled carnival featured a range of exciting outdoor activities for children including face painting, Hinna and an array of snacks and refreshments. The event, which was organized by the Human Resources department, aimed at bringing together Zain's Bahrain community of employees and their families in a fun and informal environment.

According to the company’s Organizational development Manager, Rana Al Majed "The Zain National Day festival at the BPW is an opportunity to bring all Zainers and their families together to celebrate. Our employee engagement programs strive to bridge relationships among all employees within Zain."

The above are a few ways to improve happiness at work. There can be several other ways to engage employees effectively and we would love to hear what you or your organization is doing to nurture happy employees in the MENA region or anywhere else in the world.