UAE launches well-being council to boost workplace happiness

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The UAE has made a long-term commitment to changing the way companies and staff view health and well-being at work.

A 'Business for Well-being Council' has been launched to support the more than five million private sector workers in the country.

The council will be tasked with encouraging organisations to introduce work-friendly initiatives such as flexible working hours and regular mental health counselling sessions for its staff.

With well-being at work a key national priority, eight private sector companies employing more than 250,000 staff have been selected to sit on the board; Cisco, Etihad, Emirates, Unilever, Majid Al Futtaim, Landmark, Aldar and Emirates NBD.

Part of the National Programme for Happiness and Well-being, the council will be chaired by Ohood Bint Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness.

The minister said 500 government employees had been trained to roll out well-being initiatives in the workplace.

“As a member of this council, our objective is to shape and define the future of workplaces in the UAE,” Nadine El Hadad, HR director at Unilever Mena told The National.

“The welfare of employees is something we take very seriously at Unilever and this council will create a dynamic public-private platform on well-being at work.”

In today’s relentlessly fast and furious work culture, these eight companies have realised the value of staff loyalty.

People want to work in a happy environment [with a company] that really cares about them as people

Michael Leonard, Human Elements

Whether it is the introduction of healthy food in the cafeteria or a weekly sit in with the chief executive, they have reported low turnover rates and a proven track record in attracting top talent to the region.

Meeting throughout the year, the council will share knowledge and foresight to help develop a certification for business well-being.

It will then be up to other private sector companies to meet the criteria within the guidelines to be labelled champions of well-being.

There is growing scientific interest in workplace well-being. Global research shows office environments that actively promote a state of contentment provide a myriad of benefits for employers and employees alike.

And in the UAE, mindfulness programmes at work are slowly gaining momentum.

Companies are realising the importance of supporting employee health, well-being, and performance to attract and retain talent.

In 2017, a survey of more than 500 public and private companies across the Emirates painted a sobering picture of discontentment in the job market.

Almost half of the companies surveyed by Knowledge Group, a business consultancy firm in , said Emirati employees quit their jobs within three years.

A further 17 per cent said national staff resigned within 12 months and 19 per cent left after just one to two years.

Tyler Simpson (left) and Vikas Shukla (right),work on designs at Landmark's headquarters in Dubai Marina. Pawan Singh/The National

A 2018-19 report by recruitment firm Nadia was more positive, with staff turnover rates in the private sector down from 11 per cent to just eight per cent.

With many full time workers spending “80 per cent of our awake time during the week at work”, Michael Leonard, managing partner of Human Elements, a UK and UAE executive coaching consultancy, said employees need to feel enabled and engaged in work.

“Increasingly, we are seeing that employees are interested in more than just money when assessing where to spend the majority of their time,” he said.

“It is less and less about the money.

“People want to work in a happy environment [with a company] that really cares about them as people. Employees want to feel appreciated, respected and cared for.”

When introduced correctly, making fitness and mindfulness practices like morning yoga or meditation, part of the workweek can improve emotional and mental health.

And updating longstanding policies that directly impact workers, like extending maternity leave or introducing volunteerism leave, will motivate individuals.

“As organisations become more aware of the power of employee well-being, viewing it as an investment, not a cost, then profits will ultimately improve through increased employee engagement, retention and productivity,” Mr Leonard said.

“Companies that live a well-being philosophy will be seen as employers of choice and able to attract high calibre talent.”

In 2017, private and public companies in the UAE started to create job roles for happiness officers.

Speaking to The National, Gavin Walford-Wright, chief people officer at schooling group Taaleem, said good work environments produce “empowered, engaged and healthy working employees”.

“All organisations would accept that psychological safety matters in the workplace,” he said.

“A recent study has found that managers who have received mental health training in their workplaces actively work to help prevent mental health issues in the people they manage.

“The creation of a well-being council recognises the importance of well-being at work and sets a national standard for organisations to understand and work towards.”

Across the 10 Taaleem schools in the UAE, the organisation has introduced a number of wellness initiatives, including mindfulness rooms, providing access for both students and staff to relax; extended maternity leave, flexible working hours for central office employees and 38 days a year annual leave for school support staff.

Updated: December 18, 2019 10:40 AM

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