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4 Common Challenges Leaders in the UAE Face & How we can help

3 years ago (almost to the day!) Cosmic Centaurs was founded in the UAE, an emerging hub for business both across the region and the world. It's a popular place for companies to incorporate given its convenient location, security, access to talent, and the ease of starting a business there - and this is especially the case for entrepreneurs.

Working in the UAE market enables us to work with remarkable leaders at the helm of startups and scaleups, SMEs, multinationals, and government entities to help them build organizations that thrive. We work with these leaders to solve challenges and make decisions about work and the work place; and over the past few years, we identified a few shared pain points that are a result of operating in a dynamic, popular fast-paced environment like the UAE. Below are 4 of those obstacles, and the solutions we developed to help leaders overcome them:

Challenge #1: Disengagement

In the UAE, less than 30% of employees are engaged

Employee engagement encompasses how an employee feels about their role,

their work, and value within their company. It fuels organizational success, because it correlates with productivity, performance, well-being, and retention. Unfortunately, in the UAE, less than 30% of employees are engaged. This is a huge challenge for leaders because the loss of productivity can cost the economy up to $10.3B.

At Cosmic Centaurs, we don’t just help you improve the score of employee engagement on a pulse survey. We go deep, unpacking what is getting in the way and design an intentional and impactful employee experience, so that every touchpoint engages employees. That means thinking of every moment along the employee journey (see image below) and finding ways to improve it.

Touchpoints of the employee experience: Idea of a new workplace, Recruiting, Pre-boarding, Onboarding, Compensation and Benefits, Ongoing L&D, Processes and Ways of Working, Communication and community involvement, Rewards and recognition, Performance planning and feedback, Career advancement and job rotation, retirement, termination, resignation.

The employee experience touchpoints of the employee’s journey in an organization.

We worked with the leadership team of one regional tech scale up to improve the organizational culture, making it explicit and centered around its values. To help, we first conducted an audit of the culture, shared findings and worked with leaders to (re)define the organizational values. Once these values were communicated and employees had a shared understanding of their meaning and how to espouse them, we integrated the values across two key EX touchpoints:

Internal Communications

The shared language of the organization: This touchpoint includes organizational communication as well as executive comms. To integrate the values within this, we crated a comprehensive internal comms strategy, developed copywriting and content templates, set up key internal comms channels and drafted an editorial style guide to ensure the values were seamlessly infused in the voice of the company. The results? Content employees wanted to consume, with updates, aligning them to the strategy and culture which ultimately leads to improved engagement. Performance Management

At Cosmic Centaurs we always say that values are more than just words on the wall. We believe that to engage employees, they should align and feel connected to values and become fluent in identifying them in action, recognizing one another for espousing the values, or holding each other accountable for when they are not upheld.

This tech scale up enlisted our help in developing a values-based competency framework to incorporate the values into their performance management system. Our task was to create a balanced and objective evaluation framework based on the values and virtues. Once this was created, we knew employees and managers needed to be comfortable with the newly added performance management system, and so we created training collateral for managers to improve how they share meaningful feedback and evaluate employees based the values.

If employee engagement is something you want to improve, book a one-on-one with us.

Challenge #2: Burnout

~38% of employees working in the UAE experience burnout

Burnout is the most immediate area to address in the UAE’s private sector, with 2 in 5

employees (38%) reporting feeling burned out due to work-related stress in the last 30 days. Burnout leaves employees feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful; it affects their health as well as that of the organization, which in turn experiences low retention and productivity.

Giving a few days off is not a long-term solution to burnout because it is not the same as fatigue. While a vacation might make an employee feel somewhat relaxed, they are likely to fall back into the feeling of burnout once they are back to work.

When employees are burnt out, identifying the root cause and gauging how prevalent burnout is across the organization requires an intentional effort to collect data from employees. We designed an approach to help leaders hear from their workforce to ensure they have what they need to do their best work.

We employed this approach in a mission with a global communications agency based in Dubai to help its leaders (re)design the workspace and our work was ultimately published in the Harvard Business Review in collaboration with Mark Mortensen. While burnout was not the key challenge in this case, we research tools frequently used to improve the CX to evaluate the employee experience with a view to improving the workspace and work model.

We have since hosted a few workshops to help leaders in the UAE learn how to use this approach and collect insights to ensure their employees have what they need to do their best work, and mitigate the risk of burnout and other challenges from arising.

If your organization is facing burnout, book a one-on-one with us.

Challenge #3: Turnover

76% of employees in the UAE are likely to look for a new job next year.

While employee retention is in many cases the result of disengagement and burnout, it is also the result of a competitive market. In 2022, The National reported turnover was so high as employees int he UAE seek higher salaries and additional benefits, as well as more learning and development opportunities.

While meaningful work incentivizes employees to stay, if you are not taking care of the basic needs of your employees (seen below as the foundation of the Employee Engagement Pyramid), then any perks or additional incentives to retain employees will be unsuccessful.

Pyramid of Employee Engagement, from least engaged (survival), to security, belonging, importance, and self-actualization (most engaged)

If your compensation and remuneration and benefits are fair and employees are satisfied, here are a few ways to reduce turnover.

Manager upskilling

One in two employees leave their jobs because of their manager. Although middle managers are a critical part of the employee experience, they are often overlooked and left without relevant leadership training and upskilling. As a matter of fact, 87% of middle managers wish they had received more management training when they first became a manager. We work with managers identifying the areas to improve their leadership capabilities and designing programs to upskill them in areas such as communication, delegation, feedback sharing, project management and stakeholder engagement. Our aim is to ensure middle managers are equipped to lead and grow their teams.

Learning & Development

94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. Employees look for jobs where they feel like they can learn, and grow, and not just finish their tasks. L&D is a win-win situation, because when it is thoughtfully strategized, it leads to higher employee satisfaction, and increases performance and productivity. With our clients, we believe in developing long-term L&D strategies, and not just one-off workshops that tick a box. From learning programs, Grow Day events, to upskilling webinars (like this ChatGPT course), we have a variety of workshops and webinars to upskill your talent for the future of work. Check out our brochure here.

Challenge #4: Misalignment

Regional HQs: Balancing Local Markets with Centralized Operations

90% of the top regional CEOs of global companies are based out of the UAE. The UAE is a hub for the region, and for many companies, their regional (or global) HQs are based between Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Leaders of these HQ companies are faced with a challenge: how do they ensure their organization is well-established for distributed work? This means their strategy, culture, ways of working, and communication are all designed around the work model. It also means establishing a two-way channel for communication for country markets to share local insights and adapt their offering to meet the needs of that audience.

At Cosmic Centaurs, we help leaders think abotu all aspects of their organizational strategy to ensure it delivers on their goals, this includes how the HQ office manages its work and workforce. Our Omnichannel Organization™️ discovery and implementation methodology helps build a more engaged and fulfilled workforce that delivers real impact on the bottom line of organizations.

With one of our clients, we applied this framework to help the a regional Hub team identify what is blocking them from working effectively in distributed settings, and extend the company culture into the virtual workspace. Our research and implementation phases were impactful, ultimately leading to 2x increase in feedback & knowledge sharing opportunities, and 70% perceived improvements in processes & methodologies. If you are looking to align all aspects of your organization, get in touch to learn how we can help you.

While these are not all of the challenges leaders in the UAE face, they are among the recurring obstacles we hear of and solve for. Book a one-on-one with us to learn how we can help you build an organization that thrives.

4 Common Challenges Leaders in the UAE Face & How we can help


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