How to support an employee diagnosed with cancer

4 February marked the 20th World Cancer Day. Established to raise awareness, clean up misconceptions and reduce stigma, there’s still a lot more work ahead of us. Together with legal firm DWF and specialised medical broker Medstar Insurance, OLAM participated in a panel discussion on how to support an employee with cancer. Here are 4 areas you can support a member of your team who’s been diagnosed with cancer.

The legal framework

At the time the UAE Labour Law Federal Law No 8 of 1980 (as amended) was written, cancer was not a common illness. Work has changed dramatically since then and it’s not surprising that no special provisions for long-term sick leave had been included in the law.

As such, the general sick leave outlined in Art. 83 of the UAE labour law applies also for patients diagnosed with cancer. Unless otherwise agreed, employees are only eligible for sick leave once they’ve completed their probation period and worked for an additional 3 months. In practice, most UAE based companies offer sick leave after 6 months of service.

Employees then become eligible for sick leave as follows:

  1. First 15 calendar days paid at 100%
  2. Next 30 calendar days paid at 50%
  3. Next 45 calendar days unpaid

Especially for critical illnesses, these sick leave entitlements may not be sufficient and companies can enhance their sick leave provisions. HR policies can grant extended sick leave periods with pay or without pay.

Should an employee have exhausted their sick leave entitlement, the company can legally terminate the employee based on Art. 85 of the UAE labour law. Although the law provides this option, organisations are advised to handle any terminations because of illness with extreme care, dignity and empathy.

Respect the employee’s privacy

Receiving the cancer diagnosis can be a highly emotional moment. The individual may feel overwhelmed, frightened and anxious. The reaction is different for every individual and everyone’s approach to sharing the news with their loved ones will be different.

Every year, there are 10 million new cases of cancer diagnosed worldwide. Yet, when your team members informs you about their diagnosis, it may also be overwhelming for you. Ask your employee how they like to be supported. They may not know the answer then, keep that in mind.

If your team member doesn’t want to talk about their illness, respect that. Don’t share their diagnosis with others inside and outside your organisation without the individual’s consent.

While meant in a positive way, organising fundraisers can have a detrimental effect on the individual. Their story may be abused for a PR campaign while the individual didn’t want to disclose their diagnosis to their own team or even outside the organisation.

Should the individual be okay of a fundraiser in their name, be aware that in the UAE funds can only be raised once the local authorities have approved it. Any fundraising or charitable collections can only be carried out in cooperation with a locally registered charity.

Arrange a meeting with the insurer

Cancer treatments are expensive and a patient needs to understand their coverage. You can help your employee by arranging a meeting with your medical insurer. During this meeting, the insurer should outline the coverage and the claims procedure. It’s vital for the employee to gain clarity of what’s covered and what is not. Financial worries shouldn’t be added to an already complex situation.

Due to the high cost of treatments, the company should arrange for direct billing. This way, the treatment facility sends the bills directly to the insurer and these two parties handle the payment themselves.

Under the pay and claim approach, an employee would need to pay substantial amounts which may be more than their earnings. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the employee to pay for their treatment.

Clarify with the insurer who their direct point of contact will be. Most insurers have a dedicated member of their team looking after assigned clients. Who will support the employee and help them complete the paper work? Will that person also be able to answer medical and treatment questions? Will the insurer or your organisation have a special support hotline or group where the employee could get counselling and support? Does your EAP (employee assistance programme) offer such services?

As the employer, take this opportunity to also review your medical cover. If the annual limits is low, discuss your options to increase it with your broker and/or your insurer. Potentially, you may have to wait until your renewal date.

In addition, review your life insurance coverage provided to your employees. You may also consider the option of providing critical illness cover if that’s not already included in your life insurance. Critical illness coverage is designed to ease the financial burden and given the different types, the short-listed policies need to be carefully reviewed for their fine print.

Offer flexible working options

While many elements may be outside the control of an employee, work can be their only normal place. For many employees with a cancer diagnosis, staying in their job gives them a sense of normality.

When the employee is choosing for treatment locally, the company can show its support by providing flexible working options.

If not already in place, allow for a flexible start and finish of the working day. The employee may use a later starting time or an earlier finish to schedule doctor’s appointments. Also, it gives them an option to still contribute to their team’s projects despite not feeling well.

Fatigue, nausea and vomiting are the most common side effects experienced by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. These side effects may come within 1-5 days after the treatment. While employees may still want to work on those days, traditional 9-5 work in the office may be challenging. If you’re not offering working from home yet, consider it now – for those employees undergoing treatment or all employees alike.

Some individuals may prefer to receive treatment in their home country. When you’re meeting with the insurer, explore the coverage of your medical insurance in that country.

If possible, explore options for your employee to work from their home country. With technology like Microsoft Teams, Skype and Botim, there are numerous options to have face-to-face calls and stay in touch. Cloud technology also provides the ability to access files from anywhere in the world. Alternatively, review your leave policies and implement extended (unpaid) leave periods for the treatment of critical illnesses.

For employees working in shifts, you can look into creating shorter shifts to reduce the feeling of being exhausted. This lets the employee pursue an almost normal work day while having the opportunity to rest when they need to. Once your employee knows when they are feeling tired the most from their treatment, you can schedule that day as a regular off day.

In addition, you may consider a lighter work schedule for your employee. This may come in the form of working reduced working hours. It may also be around the physical work they are to complete. Your team member may not have the body strength to lift or handle heavy items. You can reassign them to a (temporarily) different team.

Organisations can differentiate themselves and become a true supporter for an employee in need.

Find out how you can implement a holistic support programme for your employees diagnosed with cancer. Contact us today.

Increase employee engagement with personalised total rewards

For decades, rewards programmes in the Middle East were relatively straightforward. Salary packages consisted of basic salary, housing allowance and transportation allowance. Many organisations provided an annual leave ticket and health insurance as benefits. Companies differentiated between employees on a single or family status, where, in the latter case, dependents were also covered. Despite this, compensation and benefits approaches followed a rigid one-size-fits-all approach.

These days, companies are recognising the need to modernise their total rewards programmes. While other HR areas have evolved, most total rewards programmes remained inflexible, focusing on experience and company seniority. They seem to have forgotten the employee. Leading companies are consequently transitioning to a personalised total rewards experience.

The benefits

As more studies are conducted in this area, the evidence is also supporting the move towards personalised total rewards. Paid back in higher employee engagement and increased business results, both the employee and the organisation benefit from personalising total rewards.

Payscale found that employees who do not understand the pay process are 60 percent more likely to leave the organisation. (Dave Smith, “Most people have no idea whether they’re paid fairly,” Harvard Business Review, December 2015.) Can your organisation afford this?

Companies have 27% fewer regrettable new hires in the first year, according to Willis Towers Watson. Deloitte also found organisations with highly engaged employee experiences have a 2.3x greater than average 3-year-revenue growth.

Understand what your employees value

While organisations may have the best intentions when creating or reviewing benefit plans, employees may have a very different perception. Moving towards a more diverse workforce with part-time employees, contract and project staff and a multi-generational workforce, employees have different needs. Companies may wish to segment their employee groups further, e.g. critical roles, highly sought after skills and high potential employees.

To learn more about their employees, companies shouldn’t just rely on the anecdotal stories from line managers. Employee surveys can give deeper insights into what employees need and value.

Wen Wan, director of talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson, confirms “any initiative aimed at improving the total rewards experience must take into consideration what employees value most and how those preferences differ by employee segment.”

Total rewards and HR teams can analyse the data, identify recommendations for the most relevant programmes for employees and build tailor made programmes for the different employee groups.

Consider the various TR components

A few years ago, leading companies in this region moved from providing numerous separate allowances to one consolidated allowance. This was to simplify the administration process and to educate employees about the total package approach. Employees are ultimately responsible for how they spend (or save) their salary.

Despite an apparent still fixed approach to total rewards, 12.8% of companies participating in Informa’s 2019 Compensation and Benefits Employer Survey have already implemented flexible benefits. A further 22.9% of participants are considering introducing flexible benefits.

Compensation

While many organisations have moved from fixed grade and step salaries, broader salary ranges give line managers more flexibility in deciding an employee’s pay. They can define the basic salary based on the criticality of the role, possession of skills critical to future success or, at the time of a salary review, achievement of team goals.

Benefits

Companies can offer more flexibility to employees when it comes to benefits. In the UAE, Mercer at its post-TRS survey meeting identified medical insurance, dental and optical insurance, life insurance, and annual leave as four components ripe for flexibility. Employees can swap these at one time during the year (i.e. at renewal date), reducing the concern of increased administration.

Wellbeing

Rising healthcare costs are a global issue. It’s not just the cost for medical appointments and prescriptions. 1 in 5 absences at work is due to workplace stress. The Global Wellness Institute calculated the cost of ill-being as high as 12% of the United States’ GDP. Companies need to realise the importance of well-being and make it a priority.

Even though wellbeing programmes need a holistic approach, organisations can start with purpose-driven activities for their staff. Linked to their industry, companies can emphasise specific initiatives. For example, pharmaceutical companies can focus physical wellbeing while financial institutions financial wellbeing.

Flexible working

In direct conjunction to wellbeing, employees are craving for more flexibility at work and a better work-life balance or integration. Businesses can review their working arrangements. Core working hours with a flexible start/finish and working from home can be implemented without a lot of bureaucracy. Leading companies offer working from other offices for a longer period (e.g. over the summer), allowing employees to strengthen relationships with colleagues in other locations and possibly combining this time with their annual leave.

Recognition

Instead of waiting for the year-end performance review, more organisations are offering frequent performance check ins. While bonus payments are still only at the end of the year, line managers can use recognition programmes to acknowledge their staff’s performance. Monetary awards like cash and gift cards may be given. More research has found that non-financial recognition (e.g. dining experiences, social recognition) contributes to an individual’s happiness and has a longer lasting impact.

Utilise data and technology

For most organisations, flexibility stops with their IT systems. The administrative burden is too much to provide their employees with the flexibility they so desire.

Total rewards and HR teams should review their current procedures and streamline operations to optimise their internal and external resources. The region remains split on HR technology. While 31.9% of the participating companies in Informa’s 2019 survey will stick to excel programmes for data analysis, 44.7% of participants invested in technology compared to 2018.

By using technology, organisations can support their employees to make informed decisions and create an employee grade experience, which is characterised by its simple, convenient and personalised nature. Intuitive self-service at the push of a button provides the easy usage employees are looking for. Total rewards and HR teams can tailor their communication and education for employees according to the individual’s interests and needs.

Measure the cost and impact of your programmes

As with any other programme, total rewards and HR teams need to track and measure their personalised total rewards programmes. Business leaders will be interested in the financial costs and the non-financial impact. The financial costs may be kept neutral, although the more targeted spend will create non-financial returns. Leading organisations have seen positive impacts on employee engagement, their ability to attract and to retain employees.

Surprisingly, leading companies that have already implemented personalised total rewards are not talking about their financial ROI. Especially in times when we can expect an increase in skills shortages and a continued war for talent, it’s part of their overall employee value proposition (EVP) and their strategy of being an employer of choice.

Make a start and prioritise

The decision to move to personalised total rewards may be taken quickly. However, the implementation may require some time and businesses need to prioritise:

  • Offering more flexible working arrangements can be the first step.
  • Adding more health and wellbeing benefits may be reviewed prior to the annual renewal date and the insurer and broker may be heavily involved.
  • Creating more personalised communication and aligning the total rewards/HR experience to the organisation’s brand may be a cross-functional project.
  • Improving the organisation’s technology for administration purposes and employee communication may be a larger financial investment.

Find out how personalised total rewards can increase your employee engagement. Contact us today.

 

The benefits of HR Policies

We are working in one of the world’s most multi-cultural regions. Individuals from all over the world are coming to work in the Middle East. They are bringing their skills, excitement and hope as well as their beliefs and value systems. Leading a team where languages, viewpoints and behaviours may differ so substantially can be a challenge even for experienced line managers and HR teams alike.

Policies can support creating a common ground for all employees regardless of their background.

What are policies?

While top management determine the guidelines for the business, policies break these down further and define how the business runs. They support the strategic growth, the day-to-day operations as well as organisation’s culture.

What are the benefits?

Written HR policies provide numerous benefits to an organisation.

As companies are growing and hiring new staff, common standards need to be communicated. HR policies help all employees get and stay on the same page and support the company’s culture.

Companies can base their policies on best practices, set to foster innovation, increase the employee experience and strengthen the competitive advantage. Local companies can benefit from the flexibility which the UAE labour law gives them to adjust HR policies issued by their global head office to their specific requirements.

Determining the delegation of authority, roles and responsibilities are clarified for everyone. This, in return, reduces misunderstandings and ensures smooth workflows.

As such, well-written policies provide an opportunity to strengthen employee relations. Reflecting the needs of both parties, they describe the performance and behaviours expected from the employees and the support and guidance given by the company. Should any disciplinary actions need to be taken, they provide a clear framework for consistent and fair treatment and are to prevent lawsuits, as much as possible.

Hence, HR policies consequently serve as a reference point for all people matters.

Which policies to include?

The local laws outline a limited number of required procedures only. Chapter VI of the UAE Labour Law Federal Law No. 8 of 1980 and its amendments describes disciplinary actions whereas Law No. 2 of 2015 against Discrimination and Hatred focuses on the prohibition against discrimination in an employment context.

Companies can therefore decide which policies they implement depending on their needs, provided they do not conflict with the local laws. Typically, companies choose to cover the following areas in their policies:

Recruitment

Organisations can define how they link their strategic workforce planning with the operational recruitment activities like selecting candidates and rehiring former employees. Policies may also include an employee referral programme or deal with the recruitment of family members and relatives.

Code of conduct

Companies can set their own standards of behaviour in their code of conduct, which reflects the organisation’s daily operations, core values and overall company culture. The handling of bullying and harassment situations may be described here, too.

Compensation and benefits

Policies can outline the company’s approach to rewarding employees, eligibility of benefits and allowance and evaluating jobs. They may also include how the company will address salary reviews.

Leave

Besides mandatory leave, companies can support their employees’ wellbeing by providing additional leaves, for example, time off for parental and caring duties, sabbatical or study and exam leave.

Learning and development

These policies address the company’s view on training and can point out the resources available for employees to acquire and develop their skills. They can lay out the criteria for reimbursement of any employee-initiated training, if it is relevant to the job, or special assignments for the employee to gain new experiences.

Performance

Performance policies assist companies applying fair performance assessments. They can also provide guidance on how to deal with unacceptable conduct and help employees improve. A disciplinary policy is normally also in place.

Although there is no limit on the number of policies a company may have, a reasonable and practical approach should be applied. Companies should therefore evaluate the specific needs for their business, however, it is recommended to have the following policies at a minimum written and communicated to all staff:

  • Bullying, harassment and discrimination
  • Code of conduct
  • Disciplinary
  • Grievance

Just as the business evolves and changes, HR policies need to have an option to adjust to the changing business requirements or legal mandates. Do your policies provide you with that flexibility?

HR policies are an effective way to look after your organisation’s and your employees’ needs while providing guidance to handling common workplace issues. Contact us today and learn how we can draft tailored HR policies fit for your business needs.

What to expect for medical benefits in 2019

It’s already the last quarter of the year and many organisations are finalising their HR strategies and initiatives for 2019. Many also include a review of their current practices, in particular their medical benefits in search for increased efficiencies and more employee-centric programmes.

Over the last few years, we have seen fundamental changes looking to enhance the medical insurance coverage in this region. Dubai implemented a mandatory health insurance in a phased approach and a low cost insurance option came into effect on 15 October 2018. There also a number of challenges that need to be addressed, including the direct (and costly) access to specialist physicians, over-prescription and price pressure. At this time, it should not be a surprise to anyone that lifestyle diseases are the leading diseases in the Middle East, adding to the challenges companies, insurers and physicians are facing.

So what can we expect in 2019? We anticipate further developments and enhancements to tackle these challenges.

More negotiation powers

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has currently approved permits for 50 medical insurance. Competition to keep especially large accounts is becoming fiercer. Brokers have been able to negotiate premiums well below the medical inflation reported elsewhere. Insurers are also able to add new features and extended coverage to provide more holistic medical cover.

As such, we expect a further reduction in medical inflation compared to figures previously reported by research consultancies.

Local re-investment

The Dubai’s Health Strategy 2021 aims at providing innovative health services and improving the health of its citizens and residents. Simultaneously, Dubai is establishing itself as a hub for medical treatment in the Middle East.

In alignment with these goals, a number of local universities have expanded their medical and nursing degree programmes in recent years. This September, the first medical school opened its doors in Abu Dhabi. This provides the local training grounds to develop medical talent where it is needed.

For 2019, we anticipate continued emphasis on professional education and personal development. Further invest investment into research programmes will be made. Insured will benefit from a wider range of locally available treatment, reducing the need and possibly cost for treatment abroad.

Alternative delivery options

With the high cost of medical insurance, this is are now the second highest employee-related expense after salaries. Companies are therefore continuing to search for possibilities to lower and/or sustain these costs.

The concept of employee clinics, particularly for large corporations, and telehealth isn’t a new one. Various insurers have been offering 24/7 access to mobile or tele doctors for more than 5 years in the UAE. However, as one option to control spending, we will see an increased provision for and utilisation of alternative delivery methods.

Prevention with big data

Following the mandate to save and/or reduce medical expenses, organisations together with their broker and insurance provider have been raising awareness and educating employees.

The main health concerns in this region, e.g. diabetes and obesity, are lifestyle-related issues. Long-term and sustainable solutions need to be found to manage and, ideally, also prevent these. Daman Health utilises big data to identify ways for employees better monitor and improve their health. Big data illustrates the spend for each insured member.

As part of the overall move to utilise more data for HR’s decision making processes, organisations will also analyse and investigate the huge financial toll lifestyle diseases has on the company itself. Medical insurance companies are already evaluating their data sets to identify new ways for prevention and education purposes.

With HR teams becoming more big data savvy, we envisage an increase in the interpretation of big data to define targeted and employee specific preventative education and actions.

Integrated well-being

Well-being had been the hot topic for the last 15-20 years. While companies were asking what it was some 10 years ago, organisations are now concerned how to integrate well-being as a way to attract, engage and retain talent, as Robin Wells from Medstar shared.

However, offering yoga sessions and a bowl filled with fresh fruits falls short of comprehensive well-being strategy. The utilisation of integrated well-being initiatives is however still lagging compared to other regions across the globe.

With the increased attention on well-being, we’ve witnessed a mindset change amongst individuals. Initiatives like the Dubai Fitness Challenge are supporting the activities implemented by companies.

Companies will therefore start using well-being in an orchestrated approach to prevent, monitor and control lifestyle illnesses. In return, this is expected to show improvements in the claims management.

Want to overhaul your benefits, especially your medical benefits? Call us on +971-52-2516322 and find out how we can create, enhance and implement a medical benefits strategy fit for your EVP and organisation.

How National Bank of Fujairah implemented a highly effective employee wellbeing programme

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.

Take stock

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.

Active teams

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.

Healthier choices

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.

Connected teams

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.

Personal matters

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.

The returns

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):

  1. Treat your employees as human beings.
  2. Work with your leadership team.
  3. Actively listen to your staff.
  4. Act on the feedback no matter how small.
  5. Keep employees aware of the progress.
  6. 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!

What’s happening in compensation and benefits this year?

As every year, Informa hosted the 2-day-long Compensation and Benefits Forum in Dubai last week. For us, it was an opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues, meet new friends and share the latest compensation and benefits trends with you!

The employer trends report

Prior to the actual event, we supported Informa in creating their 2018 employer trends report. Participants reported being challenged by the fluctuating economic conditions across the region. As such, 20.36% of participating companies are planning to implement modest pay increases of up to 3.5%. In contrast, 6.04% of participants are proposing increases of 6.0% or higher in 2018.

The labour market is currently in favour of employers, yet, there’s always an opportunity for high performers. More than half of participating companies are experiencing an attrition rate of 5.0% or less while almost 1/5 of participants report over 10.0%. It was surprising to find out that over 11% of companies are unaware of their attrition rates.

The implementation of VAT (value added tax) has also kept rewards professional busy. For most companies, no special adjustments will be made for salaries or benefits. Employers are taking the view that VAT is part of life and the burden cannot be taken off employees’ shoulder. This comes as a mindset change. Historically, this region has provided various allowance like housing, transportation and schooling to help (expat) employees with the cost of living.

2018 challenges

2018 offers to be an exciting year. Conservative and innovative approaches need to balance business needs and employee expectations. Participants reported the following three areas as the most important ones on their agenda:

  1. Increased employee engagement
  2. Manage cost
  3. Retain employees

The challenges are interlinked and are no longer answered by HR Business Partners or HR Generalists alone. Rewards professionals are being asked to create solutions to complex HR topics.  Some of the attendees at the Compensation and Benefits Forum described their challenges as “thrilling”, “not sure how to manage everyone’s expectations” and “a big step towards where we should be”.

Automated analyses

AI is everywhere these days and HR can no longer hide from it. Yet, not every company is prepared or ready for the digital transformation. Mohammad Salman Hashim from Nielsen suggested taking a data-driven approach for your rewards spend. Before starting, look internally and take stock. Which reports are currently available and which ones of these do you utilise?

Hashim advised to review these reports critically. Many HR Generalists still struggle to interpret the data and need to become more comfortable dealing with numbers. Nonetheless, reports can be set up with insufficient segmentation which can obscure the story for HR Generalists.

A regular activity for rewards professionals is to simulate various scenarios. To advise any business leader, they need to be given a full overview of options and the long-term impact of each proposal. For Hashim, this area is where HR and rewards teams can contribute substantially to the business: Predicting the impact before taking any actions. Business leaders can be stopped making a decision based on gut feeling that may end in financial loss or reputational damage.

Short-term incentive (STI) schemes

Discussing the regional application of STI schemes, Dr. Sabeeh Ghugharia, Regional Corporate Human Resources Manager at Mediclinic, emphasised the need to include the patient (or customer) experience to the performance matrix. The traditional components like company sales and individual performance can no longer be the driving factors in the bonus equation.

Sachin Bajaj, Head of Performance & Rewards, NEMEA at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, took it even a step further. Instead of offering a convention STI, he proposed employees opting for up to 100% bonus. While this is more common for sales roles, it would be a radical move for support staff. Companies would need to improve setting realistic targets and enabling employees to be able to reach their goals when implementing such an approach.

For most attendees, this was an approach too far out of the box for them to warm up to. Nevertheless consensus in the forum was that every employee should be incentivised for the part they play in an organisation’s success. STI schemes may need to become a profit sharing schemes for roles where the direct impact may be harder to measure. With that, the forum recognised the importance of incentives to engage and also retain employees.

Sustainable rewards

Oluyomi Okunowo carried on with this thought and he sees STI schemes as a cost-effective way to manage change. As STI schemes only pay out when results have been achieved (i.e. self-funded), the STI design can thus become inspiring and targeted while optimising its spend.

All too often, it’s the individual who gets rewarded on their own merits. Their interactions with other team members may not be fully taken into consideration during the STI design. To optimise the STI spend, Okunowo suggested a renewed focus on team-based initiatives.

Consistency

Consistency is key in 2018. Companies are required to create more strategic approaches to their rewards and overall HR activities. While economic conditions are favourable for companies, this may change and employees will dictate the rules. Organisations are to build employee loyalty now, as Okunowo urged. “How will you get loyalty when 40% of Americans will be Gig employees by 2020?”

Are you set to tackle the 2018 challenges in your company? Call us on +971-52-2516322 and find out how we can help you optimise your rewards programmes to engage and retain your employees while balancing your company’s budget.

Retirement – are your employees saving enough?

The cost of living is rising, VAT will be introduced shortly, merit increases are expected to remain flat. Is it surprising that employees worry about their finances? Probably not, but you may be shocked that it’s taking 81 minutes away from them every working day! Can your organisation afford such a loss in productivity?

We met with Martin McGuigan, Partner at AON Hewitt in Dubai, to find out how companies can pro-actively support their employees’ financial wellbeing and prepare them for retirement.

The underestimated problem

In this region, we have it all. Our workforce is multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-general. Finding a common ground isn’t always easy. Yet, what we can easily identify is that most employees don’t save enough for retirement. While this is not a new phenomenon around the world, it’s consequences are far more impactful here.

We are facing a significant number of employees who are financially illiterate, who are unable to create and/or stick to a budget and who, although not all, are prone to keeping up with the Joneses and are thus accumulating debt. All too often, employees are looking at their end of service gratuity as a way to fix these issues in one go. Unfortunately, end of service gratuity is limited and cannot be used as a fulfilling way to plan for retirement.

To put another damper on it, the traditional 3 pillars of retirement planning don’t apply to the majority of employees in this region.

  1. The first pillar of social security applies to local nationals only. While there are agreements among GCC member states for retirement contributions in place, most employees here aren’t GCC nationals. Their home countries may also restrict the availability of withdrawals from their social security system, if the individual re-joined after a specific age or has made no or only limited contributions. Expats seem unaware of their home country regulations and employers don’t view it as their responsibility to educate their employees about social security systems outside their geographic jurisdiction.
  2. The second pillar comprises employer sponsored plans. 401(k) programmes in the US or other defined benefits schemes are not prevalent in this region. Many companies offer only the legally required end-of-service (EOS) gratuity, although an increasing trend to enhance it has been witnessed since 2011 according to Willis Towers Watson. Employees all too often over-estimate the amount of EOS gratuity. Paid out as a cash lump sum on the last working day, individuals rather pay off personal debt than invest into their own retirement fund.
  3. The third pillar thus depends on the employee being pro-active and preparing with personal savings and investment plans. With employees unaware of the amount required for their retirement in their home country or another country, the thought and more importantly the actions for their own retirement savings are postponed. Starting at a younger age and benefiting from compound interest can reduce the required amounts, especially when compared to someone only starting at the age of 40.

How to support employees

McGuigan emphasised the need for organisations to make planning for retirement easy for their employees. Employees often fear that their investments are locked away and only available upon payment of high penalties. Instead, they are looking for accessibility, flexibility and transferability in an employer-sponsored retirement scheme.

Companies are urged to educate their employees on a daily basis. While the employer has traditionally been seen as a paternal protector who will handle it for the employee, times are changing and employees need to start taking care of their own future. As such, organisations can support their employees during this transition, suggested by McGuigan as follows:

  1. Include retirement planning in everyday conversations. Organisations need to de-mystify retirement planning and make it easy for employees to ask about it. Employees need to become aware of the topic, then learn more about it and finally take specific actions towards it. The company can assess the maturity of their employees by speaking to them and only afterwards designing specific initiatives.
  2. Auto-enrolment into a company-sponsored retirement plan. Since the employee will benefit from such plans in the future, they will need to take conscious steps to opt out of these plans. Employees experience peace of mind by contributing to these plans and can focus on their work and life again.
  3. Utilise modern technology every day. While not everyone has access to a computer, most employees have a smart phone. Apps either from their scheme provider or built inhouse can be used to teach introductory courses like Finance 101 and investments for beginners, develop investment strategies and show the development of the employee’s investment portfolio.

The benefits for the employer

Organisations that provide education and support around retirement planning to their employees are recognising the overall improvement in their employees’ financial wellbeing. In return, employees are experiencing less financial stress and they spend less time worrying.

This translates into more time for productivity, higher engagement and increased results. Studies have also been shown that financial wellbeing programmes are effective retention tools. All these are good news for a company!

Do you want to benefit from increased engagement by educating your employees about retirement? Are you looking for the latest insights and guidance to introduce effective benefits initiatives? Call us on +971-52-2516322 and find out how we can help you manifest a culture that supports its employees’ financial wellbeing while achieving increased productivity and sales.

 

Time to audit your HR function

The beginning of a year provides a great opportunity to conduct an HR audit. New laws and regulations often take effect on New Year’s Day. While companies may have some time to update their documentation, policies and procedures, you’ll need to be compliant with legislation or risk being fined.

Your HR team can carry it out on its own or, preferably, work with the internal QA team or an external consultant to obtain objective results. Working with a checklist and predefined evaluation criteria, the findings from the HR audit offer unbiased results. You have the chance to identify the strong policies, processes, procedures and, more importantly, the areas in need for improvement. Simultaneously, it lets you step back and review how closely your strategy is reflected in your operational work.

As you prepare for the audit, define which areas you want to check. Examples can include:

  1. Personnel files: Is the electronic or hard copy personnel file complete? Do you have all required visa and work permit documentation? Do you have all contracts signed by all parties and filed? Have performance evaluations and any related documents, e.g. warning letters, been recorded and filed?
  2. HR policies: Are your policies in line with the latest changes in labour law, immigration law, data privacy law or civil law? Do any of your policies stand in contraction to each other? Have all policies been written and, as a next step, been communicated to the employees?
  3. HR procedures: Are your procedures in line with your policies? Do the written procedures reflect the actual execution of them?
  4. Payments: Working together with your Payroll team or provider, have salaries, allowances, bonuses and commissions been paid by the required dates and as per the applicable plans? Do the number of overtime hours match the hours worked as per the time keeping records? Has overtime been calculated in accordance with the legal requirements and internal premiums?

HR audits need to be carefully planned and the auditors require the appropriate training to define the current state. Due to the time requirements, it may only be conducted at one point once a year. Some companies prefer to audit throughout the year, focusing on one particular area in each month (e.g. HR policies in January, salary payments in February and so on), thus keeping the impact on the daily operations low.

Once the findings have been gathered and analysed, you can identify any gaps and prioritise the corrective actions, if and as needed. The most important actions are to correct violations of the law and health and safety. These two areas can attract financial fines as well as imprisonment. Address HR inefficiencies and implement best practices once a solid foundation has been put in place for your HR team. This may mean (re-)training your team on getting the job done right the first time by understanding the required steps in the process, leveraging technology and applying their strengths.

Are you concerned that your HR operations may no longer be compliant with the labour law? Don’t have the time to create an HR audit from scratch? Call us on +971-50-5516322 and find out how we can support you to reduce risks of being fined while increasing your HR team’s efficiency.

Are you ready to communicate your total rewards?

Companies are spending hours and weeks on defining the total rewards philosophy that’s right for them. Yet, how much time is spent communicating it to all employees? Do your employees even know how much they receive in cash and non-cash elements?

In 2016, 53% of companies reported that most of their employees do not understand how base pay is determined (Willis Towers Watson). Do you know whether all your rewards programmes are understood or even known by all of your employees?

A clear and easy to understand communication strategy can increase the comprehension of your various rewards programmes amongst your employees. Follow these 5 steps to create an effective communications plan for your company:

  1. Define the goals for the communication initiative. Are you looking to increase general awareness about your existing rewards programmes? Are you rolling out a new benefit and want your employees to become more familiar with it?

  2. Be clear about the objectives. Refer to them throughout the process and measure your progress and achievement regularly.

  3. Identify all audiences. This goes from your top executive team to all levels below. Don’t forget to include spouses and other family members who will have an interest in programmes like medical benefits or retirement provisions.

  4. Working in a multi-cultural region, is every employee (and family member) fluent enough to understand the message in your working language? Do any messages need to be translated into other languages? Factor any translations into your budget and timeline.

  5. Articulate key messages and outline actions employees need to take. Review your messages and ensure they are consistent, concise and clearly written. Stick with either British or American English and proofread the messages before they’re sent out. Check that none stands in contrast to your EVP or any other HR programmes.

  6. If you’re asking employees to take any actions, specify what needs to be done by whom how and when. Provide details of who to contact for any support.

  7. Determine the most effective communication channels and the timing of the delivery. Consider the different channels you have available within your office and global organisation. These could be town hall, team or individual meetings, webinars and online training, newsletters, intranet and emails, to mention just a few.

  8. Select the channels most appropriate for the specific employee group. For a new employee, the new employee orientation may be the right place to start whereas for existing employees, performance reviews can be utilised.

    Line managers are a great channel to spread the news about the different rewards programmes. Provide them with a solid understanding of each programme and enable them to confidently answer any questions from their employees.

    The same message should be delivered through multiple channels and on a regular basis to maximise its effectiveness. Don’t stop after sending out one email! Keep the communication flowing throughout the year.

  9. Utilise total rewards statements. Total rewards statements illustrate the employee’s personalised total rewards provided by the company. They generally include a table showing the before and after a salary review details and/or a pie chart for all rewards elements. The employee’s manager can issue these and answer any questions directly.

Looking to overhaul your total rewards communication in 2017? Not sure how best to approach it? Call us on +971-50-5516322 and find out how we can establish a unique communication strategy for you.