The great­est places to work in theUAE

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The mo­ment the 2014 Great Places toWork (GPTW) list was re­leased, Thomas Lund­gren, CEO of fur­ni­ture store The One, called a meet­ing of his staff at their Jumeirah of­fice. While The One re­mained the num­ber one lo­cal com­pany on the list, it had slipped down one slot to num­ber five, from the fourth po­si­tion over­all it had en­joyed the pre­vi­ous year.

“It was to con­grat­u­late them, as well as dis­cuss strate­gies to get bet­ter,” says Thomas.

The One staffers are al­ready a pretty sat­is­fied lot. And why wouldn’t they be? Their ben­e­fits in­clude flex­i­ble work­ing hours, em­ployee bond­ing pro­grammes with drum­ming ses­sions, train­ing and de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes, ex­tended ma­ter­nity leave, new moth­ers are al­lowed to work part-time, a great health in­sur­ance pack­age, laugh­ter yoga ses­sions (where staff learn to laugh and let go off their ten­sion to­gether), a re­laxed dress code, fit­ness classes at the of­fice, a wel­fare fund with equal con­tri­bu­tions from the em­ployer for emer­gen­cies, sport­ing events, em­ploy­ment of people with spe­cial needs, an at­trac­tive bonus scheme and 40 per cent dis­count at The One out­lets.

They also get a monthly break­fast where de­serv­ing staff are re­warded, free lunches for ware­house staff and staff par­tic­i­pa­tion in so­cial wel­fare schemes in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

With such an ac­tive in­ter­est in staff wel­fare, Thomas re­ally didn’t need to go for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from GPTW, a US-based com­pany that rates great places to work from the staff’s point of view in 42 coun­tries. But he did, and like the pre­vi­ous four years (The One fig­ured among the top six of the 15-com­pany list all four years), he plans to keep at it.

“I never be­lieved in these com­pany rank­ings, but in 1994, while work­ing on my busi­ness plan forThe One, I read a mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle on the top 100 US com­pa­nies,” he says. “That is where my dream was born – a dream of cre­at­ing the world’s best com­pany to work for.

“When I heard about GPTW launch­ing a list for the UAE in 2010, I was still quite scep­ti­cal, but de­cided to give it a go just to get an idea of whereThe One stands.

“It is a glob­ally recog­nised rank­ing in 42 coun­tries across the world. To­day I am a be­liever, since this sur­vey gives us an in­di­ca­tion ev­ery year of how em­ploy­ees in each of our busi­ness units feel and we can use that data to im­prove.”

That is what most com­pa­nies on the UAE’s top 15 list have to say. The an­nual list was re­leased last month. Multi­na­tion­als DHL, Mi­crosoft Gulf, Om­ni­com Me­dia Group Mena and Eric­s­son took the first four po­si­tions. Ob­vi­ously, it’s sim­ply not enough

now for com­pa­nies to think a good salary is the way to at­tract talent – or to make their com­pany a great place to work.

Take 13th-placed Hy­att for in­stance. Each June, Hy­att ho­tels around the world par­tic­i­pate in Cel­e­brat­ing Our People, a week-long event that recog­nises the com­pany’s “most im­por­tant as­set and their tremen­dous ded­i­ca­tion”.

So what ex­actly is it that makes an or­gan­i­sa­tion a great place to work? “Our 25 years of re­search in­di­cate that all great work­places share a com­mon thread – a high de­gree of trust in the workplace,” says David Robert, part­ner and di­rec­tor of GPTWUAE.

“We col­lect a sig­nif­i­cant amount of data re­lated to best prac­tices, which we share fre­quently with clients, but no one set of best prac­tices can guar­an­tee that a com­pany will be a great workplace.

“Ev­ery com­pany is dif­fer­ent and no two com­pa­nies will take the same path. How­ever, the sin­gle most im­por­tant fac­tor that drives high trust is the ef­fec­tive­ness and strength of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween em­ploy­ees and man­age­ment.

“Great work­places are not built based on what they of­fer; they are built based on how the pro­grammes are im­ple­mented.”

The process

Es­sen­tially, it is a com­pany’s em­ploy­ees who de­ter­mine whether it makes the list. GPTW’s eval­u­a­tion process con­sists of two parts.

The first is an anony­mous sur­vey of the em­ploy­ees, called the Trust In­dex. This mea­sures the trust the staff have in the man­age­ment.

The sec­ond part is the Cul­ture Au­dit – a sur­vey of the man­age­ment pol­icy and how it mea­sures up against global stan­dards.

The re­sults of both sur­veys are an­a­lysed and scored by a team of con­sul­tants. The Trust In­dex makes up two-thirds of the fi­nal score and the Cul­ture Au­dit one third.

All reg­is­tered com­pa­nies have to meet min­i­mum thresh­olds to make the grade. No com­pany scor­ing less than 70 per cent in over­all scores is con­sid­ered for the list.

Any com­pany that has done busi­ness for two years and has 50 em­ploy­ees in the UAE can ap­proach GPW to be as­sessed. For more info go to www.great­place­towork.ae.

A lo­cal an­gle

Where do UAE com­pa­nies stand com­pared to com­pa­nies in other parts of the world in terms of work cul­ture? “Great work­places will look and feel dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the coun­try, mar­ket or cul­ture they are in – but at the core of ev­ery workplace is trust,” says David.

“How trust gets built or bro­ken also looks very dif­fer­ent from cul­ture to cul­ture, but from our per­spec­tive all em­ploy­ees want three ba­sic ques­tions an­swered: Where are we go­ing, why is it im­por­tant, and how am I do­ing? All great work­places have lead­ers who con­sis­tently an­swer these ques­tions for em­ploy­ees.

“The top com­pa­nies in the UAE, al­though they may look and feel dif­fer­ent from top com­pa­nies in other parts of the world, con­sis­tently an­swer these ques­tions.”

Is there a for­mula that makes for a good workplace cul­ture?

“There is no for­mula,” says David. “Each com­pany must spend the ap­pro­pri­ate amount of time un­der­stand­ing who they are, where they would like to go, and the best path to get there.”

This of­ten re­quires in-depth data gath­er­ing and an ef­fort to get all the lead­ers on board. Once the com­pany has the sup­port of all its lead­ers, then it’s the right time to be­gin ac­tion plan­ning. What a com­pany de­cides to pur­sue will de­pend on the re­sults of the data gath­er­ing.

‘Great work­places will look and feel dif­fer­ent… but at the core of ev­ery workplace is trust’

Global reach

Google, the com­pany that was num­ber one on GPTW’s World’s Best Multi­na­tional Places toWork 2013, achieved it partly through Google Reach. The pro­gramme sends a small group of Google staff to an evolv­ing area to help lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions and small businesses ad­dress de­vel­op­ment chal­lenges. In 2013, 47 Google staff trav­elled to Ghana and New Delhi, In­dia.

The com­pany’s Do­na­tions for Do­ers pro­gramme en­cour­ages


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