Over the last 3 years, National Bank of Fujairah (NBF) has won many coveted HR awards across the region. Following its success in 2016 and 2017, NBF’s HR team has again been awarded “Best HR Team” this year. In 2017, Korn Ferry recognised the bank among its list of high performing organisations in the Middle East. It has been also awarded the “Innovation in Employee Engagement” prize and received the “Mark of Excellence for Nationalisation Initiative of the Year” in 2016/17 at the HR Excellence Awards.
These awards reflect NBF’s journey towards HR excellence and its commitment to creating a stimulating working environment. The last eight years reflect this unwavering commitment to driving employee satisfaction and creating a highly engaged workforce.
Earlier this month, we met with Mr. Abdulla Aleter, Head of Human Resources, and learnt how NBF overcame the challenges when implementing their wellbeing initiatives. We are excited to share his tips and lessons learnt with you and show how they managed to achieve ROI on their wellbeing initiatives.
When Aleter started in 2010, the bank had to identify new ways to engage employees. The 2008 financial crisis also left room to increase staff efficiency and do things differently. NBF’s CEO, Mr. Vince Cook, Aleter and NBF’s management team embarked on a change journey which would transform the bank by 180 degrees and make it one of the most sought-after employer brands in the UAE.
To understand where they stood, the first employee survey was conducted in 2010 whereby around 15,000 comments were submitted. Aleter has read each and every comment then and continues to do so. Despite the number dropping significantly to roughly 1,000 comments in the last survey, Aleter appreciates honest feedback from all employees.
For Aleter, listening to NBF’s employees is crucial. Employees provide diverse and innovative ideas and suggestions to the business. They also share what’s important to them, rather than what management thinks employees value. Aleter pointed out that each of NBF’s activities had to focus on the employee and their needs. Now, this should be the norm. Yet, we’ve seen numerous companies emphasise revenue over employees, questioning what “HR” stands for.
Act on the feedback
Aleter also emphasised the need to act upon employee feedback as a next step. His team grouped feedback into specific categories and then assigned each action to a specific action owner. This way, progress could easily be tracked and nobody could shy away from their responsibility to improve the bank’s operations. For him, accountability and communication of progress are key to NBF’s successful transformation.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
This is also a valuable reminder for every organisation: Take time out and define the appropriate communication strategy. Decide on the different channels for each employee group before implementing the actions resulting from the employee survey.
For NBF, it was clear. Each manager had to play an active role in the communication process. Aleter’s team designed and carried out management training sessions to prepare leaders for the appropriate messages, handling employee queries and supporting every staff member during the transition.
Based on the feedback from employees, CEO Cook and Aleter announced the upcoming initiatives to all employees. Amongst others, NBF launched its Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) – the first by a local bank.
A holistic approach
NBF took a number of strategic decisions when designing the EWP. The EWP was to take a holistic wellbeing approach including aspects of body, health and mind. In addition, it was to be offered to employees and family members alike. This placed NBF ahead of other organisations in the UAE which generally implemented one-off wellness initiatives. Only in recent times have we seen an increase in interconnected wellbeing programmes offered for employees and dependents in the region.
The bank has expanded its sports groups over the years and has become the main sponsor for the NBF Fujairah Run, the inaugural event took place in December 2017. In addition to running, employees cycle, play badminton and cricket and can even learn to swim. Aleter shared the remarkable story of one employee who was afraid of being in the water. Curious to learn how to swim after witnessing the headway his colleagues made in the pool, this employee approached the coach, took small steps and has now pledged to a swimming race.
Believing that healthy minds come from healthy bodies, NBF continuous to encourage its employees to lead a healthy lifestyle by making small behavioural changes like staying hydrated. Upon noticing that employees were showing more interest in being physically active, the bank supplemented this lifestyle change with re-educating staff about their diet. Aleter proudly shared that some employees even managed to lose some weight, with one individual shedding 20 kg. All these lifestyle changes also left a positive mark on the usage of NBF’s medical insurance. With the rising cost of healthcare, this is an important benefit for any company these days.
The sports groups have further impacted employees at work and helped to build connections within and across departments. Spending more time in a non-work and more relaxed environment helped to improve communication and deepen relationships between team members. Furthermore, silos across the organisation were broken down, increasing productivity and consequently business performance.
For NBF, the EWP also spreads to any personal issue an employee may be experiencing at home. Aleter explained that it’s essential to give employees the support at work to also address their personal issues with the right financial, legal and relationship advice. As such, NBF engaged AXA ICAS to provide independent, confidential and qualified counselling services in person or over the phone to NBF employees and family members, available 24/7 and in multiple languages.
Over the years, NBF has reiterated its view of employees as the most valuable assets the bank has. The bank’s actions and programmes echo their beliefs. The investment in its EWP has certainly paid off for NBF. The bank has become a highly performing organisation with a highly engaged workforce. Its reinforced commitment to staff welfare and wellbeing has created a supportive culture which empowers employees and allows them to grow both personally and professionally. All these actions established NBF as a leading organisation and employer of choice for expatriates and Emiratis alike. The bank’s business results are indicative of this success.
If you are planning your wellbeing initiative, consider Aleter’s most important tips for a successful Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP):
- Treat your employees as human beings.
- Work with your leadership team.
- Actively listen to your staff.
- Act on the feedback no matter how small.
- Keep employees aware of the progress.
- Don’t worry. Business results will follow automatically.
We’d like to thank Mr. Abdulla Aleter for his time and sharing NBF’s journey as one of the leading HR team’s in the UAE. Shukran!