Look around Dubai today and it’s easy to forget that, until the late 1950s, it was a small trading port trying to recover from the collapse in the pearling industry it had once depended on. Its growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. Over the past few years however, it’s become increasingly clear that attracting corporates big corporates and people to work in them is only part of the equation.
Equally important is making sure that these employees have everything they need to be happy and productive in their jobs. While it’s something that corporates should be doing of their own accord, it becomes even more important when you bear Dubai’s mission, to become the “happiest city on the planet“, in mind.
Small wonder that there’s been a boom in wellness and happiness initiatives at both the corporate and public levels.
But are employees seeing the benefits of all these initiatives?
The city steps up
In the 2016 World Happiness Report, the UAE slipped down the rankings from 20th to 28th place. While the report doesn’t rank individual cities, the fact that Dubai is the largest city in the UAE suggests it has a little way to go when it comes to the happiness of its citizens.
That slide isn’t for want of trying though. In 2016, the Emirate launched a ministry of happiness. And since 2014, it’s had its own “happiness index”, aimed at collecting data on how government services impacted happiness.
As reported by The Guardian, it also installed 23 touch-screen terminals positioned in public buildings and linked to government centres, with which residents are encouraged to provide feedback on their experience.
“Creating happiness is the final result of the smart city agenda,” Ahmed Bin Byat, CEO of the investment group Dubai Holding, told a government summit in 2015. “Once we are able to manage and meet people’s experiences, we will be able to rise on the happiness index. It is vital because if people are not happy, they don’t stick around in the city; they leave.”
That’s something that’s equally true of companies, especially in a city like Dubai where salaries are highly competitive and there’s a shortage of talent in critical areas.
In an example of how companies are waking up to this fact, Dubai Parks and Resorts in 2016 set up a “Happiness Fund” for its employees. Funded by voluntary contributions from company staff, the fund will provide grants to cover major life events.
It also formed a Happiness Committee, the members of which measure and review the happiness quotient of their colleagues and guests to the destination.
“We are in the business of fun, so it is extremely important for all of our employees to ensure that every interaction with a consumer is a happy and fun moment,” said company Chief Executive Officer Raed Kajoor Al Nuaimi. “Our new Happiness Fund will be funded by employees for employees and will provide our entire staff with access to the fund to improve their happiness.”
Building for happiness
Phase one of the project is expected to house around 6000 workers in accommodation that includes central air conditioning, basic furniture, 24-hour security and CCTV.
Mohammad Al Awadhi, Vice President of Real Estate at Dubai South, said: “The Sakany staff village not only represents accommodation for employees, but also seeks to deliver best-in-class infrastructure and services. We are creating a staff community that offers spacious living quarters in close proximity to essential services and amenities. This will, in turn, foster an active, engaged, and healthy workforce for maximum productivity.”
Still work to do
All of these efforts will, of course, take time to pay off. Still, they haven’t emerged out of nowhere. They’re the latest in series of efforts aimed at improving employee wellness. It’s therefore not unfair to ask whether these efforts are paying off.
Well, there is certainly some positive evidence. A 2016 survey revealed that three fifths of employees (62%) in the UAE are “happy the majority of the time at work”, with just 12% reporting unhappiness.
Most managers also reported that their wellness programmes had improved the health and productivity of their staff.
There are, however, still challenges to be overcome, especially when it comes to the disconnect between how employees see their employers and how employers see themselves.
According to a recent Metlife survey:
- 63% of employers feel strongly that their company is “a great place to work;” while only 43% of employees agree.
- 65% of employers feel they are loyal to employees, just 38% of employees strongly agree that’s the case.
- 39% of employees meanwhile expressed hope that they would be working somewhere else within the year.
That last stat should be particularly alarming. Remember when people are happy at a company, they tend to stay.
It’s clear then that while Dubai is making significant strides when it comes to happiness, the companies within it could do more.
Fortunately, doing so doesn’t require a complete operations overhaul. According to the Metlife survey, something as simple as an improved benefits package can dramatically increase the chances an employee will stay at a company.
Now that’s something which should make everyone happy, which we needn’t remind you is a very good thing.