During the past year, the fallout from COVID-19 not only irrevocably changed the world but also transformed the modern workplace.

While companies at first experimented with remote working, many are now exploring hybrid working models or are reverting to an in-office environment.

However, employers are not only grappling with the turbulence of working patterns but also the psychological impact from the pandemic, from burnout to rising mental health issues.

It means workplace wellness has never been more important.

As 20–26 September marks the International Week of Happiness at Work 2021, employers from across the region have offered tips on how to build a healthy and joyful workplace.

Sarah Dixon, the managing director for the Gulf region for recruitment specialists Hays, said happiness in the workplace is “fundamental” to an organisation’s productivity and overall success.

“A main happiness factor is establishing a culture of inclusivity, one that is open and transparent and where the tone is set from the very top,” she said. “Leaders should encourage constant input and feedback from employees, be honest where any challenges arise, take appropriate action, and really promote positivity.”


Work–life balance is also vital to overall happiness, said Dixon. “Implementing effective practices to combat any stress individuals may be facing, such as flexible working policies or limited work hours, demonstrate a commitment to employee wellbeing.”

She continued: “Over the last 12–18 months, with the outbreak of the pandemic, this has been a real area of focus, with many organisations adopting more working-from-home and flexible-working options. […] Hybrid working models that enable employees to flex hours according to their work–life commitments are important to instilling a happy workplace.”

Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, founder and CEO of UAE-based PR and communication firm TishTash, said her firm are passionate advocates for flexible working and work–life balance for all.

“Right now, 60 percent of the TishTash team are working mums who all enjoy flexible working, [which enables] them to continue their professional careers whilst not missing out on any of the key milestones in the life of their family. The company ethos is that flexibility doesn’t just apply to working mums but to everyone.”

In July 2021, the agency moved to a 4.5-day week to further promote work–life balance and to “give the team time and space away from their desks.” Hatherall-Shawe said that the new way of working has been met with extreme positivity, with many saying they are more productive, creative, and excited to be at the office.


Hatherall-Shawe said employers should not underestimate the importance of creating a welcoming work environment. “Even in your ‘dream job’, if you’re stuck in an uninspiring dark cupboard all day, it won’t make you smile. In our office, we have lots of natural light and an airy open plan space to foster collaboration, whilst our breakout spaces are designed to support creative thinking and team bonding.”

Another key tip is making sure employees feel trusted, appreciated, and respected by telling them often how valuable they are. “One of the most heard phrases in our office is ‘We appreciate you’,” Hatherall-Shawe said. “Mutual respect and appreciation are so important in a team.”

Mamoon Sbeih, President of the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region at APCO Worldwide, agrees. “Rewarding ideas and inventions and creating an atmosphere where risk-taking is embraced is key,” he said. “It should not be the most senior person in the room but the best idea in the room that wins out. This drives camaraderie, keeps minds fresh, and helps people draw fulfilment from their work.”


In Saudi Arabia, Philippe Gas, CEO of Qiddiya Investment Company, said a comfortable and conducive work environment is integral to a “more productive, engaged and happy workforce”.

He added: “We have launched a series of activities and platforms to keep our most important asset, our employees, connected and happy.”

This includes a “CEO Majlis” where employees are given the opportunity to sit down with the CEO and have a candid conversation to discuss any concerns or questions that may have.

Gas said the company also hosts several events for staff to break up the so-called “9 to 5”.

On International Olympic Day, for example, the company hosted a special event for employees where Saudi champions were invited to share their success stories and employees took part in fun sports activities like basketball, ice hockey and foosball.

“We encourage employees to invest in their physical health and wellness and offer them a chance to sign up for the gym and health-related activities at the company’s expense.

“We also launched an e-learning platform called the Qiddiya Learning Space (QLS) to give our employees a chance to develop new skills.”


According to the official International Week of Happiness “manifesto”, a happy workplace should be the norm and not the exception. A positive space also provides a plethora of advantages for businesses as well. The initiative, which originated in the Netherlands, explains it thus:

“Happier employees are more involved, more productive, more cooperative, more creative, and more innovative. They are less likely to call in sick, and there is a decreased chance they will experience a burnout. Happiness at work is about meaningful work, healthy relationships, development, and having fun. And about stopping unnecessary rules, powerplay, complicated processes and procedures, absenteeism, unmotivated colleagues, and terrible managers.”

(Reporting by Jennifer Webster; editing by Seban Scaria)


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© ZAWYA 2021