25 January 2017

Research shows that employee engagement matters. Engaged employees are more productive, and provide better customer service, enhancing customer loyalty and satisfaction, leading to better outcomes for their employer. So whether your organisation is a private company seeking profit, a government seeking satisfied citizens, or a charity seeking to deliver better services, it ought to be looking to improve employee engagement.

In a recent survey by the Leadership Institute, the most cited business concern today is employee engagement – defined as the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organisation and its leadership and put discretionary effort into their work.

This intuition is no doubt behind the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE -Sheikh Mohammed’s surprise visit to government offices in Dubai, resulting in several senior managers being retired early for being absent. 

But just how effective might these actions be? And how does one motivate and engage employees in the GCC region? Recent research in cooperation with PhD researcher, Abdulrahman Alfaifi shows that what engages employees in the Gulf region is not exactly the same as what motivates and engages employees in other parts of the world.

Employee engagement in the Gulf region

The secret to understanding the difference is in knowing two things. First is that the Gulf region is relatively high in power distance – the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. Or in other words, it is the notion that some people will naturally have more power than others.

Leaders and bosses are expected to have more power than employees and employees look to leaders for clear guidance and direction. In our research, we find that employees in the Gulf region especially value job security and a clear career path when compared with their international counterparts.

The other important and perhaps countervailing thing to understand is the power of Islam as a guiding philosophy in everyday life. Islam requires that leaders ought to consult their subordinates before they take important decisions. In our research, we find that a full 69 percent of managers in the region believe it is wrong for managers to make decisions without consulting their employees, while at the same time 68 percent believe that a company’s rules should never be broken, even when it is in the company’s best interests.   

Understanding employee engagement in the region is to understand that bosses have complete decision control, but are also expected to consult and understand the needs of their people before they exercise their power.

The importance of managers being present

What our research suggests then, is that being present to engage with employees is particularly important in the Gulf region. Although bosses are fully empowered to make decisions, they are highly unlikely to motivate and engage their workforce if they are not present to consult and fully understand the needs of their people.

Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own.