Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the most irresistible of them all?


Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the most irresistible of them all?

ME PoV Summer 2016 issue

Employee engagement is a critical business imperative that has become a top priority for organizations and business leaders today. Why? A less loyal millennial talent pool for one, organizations facing a need to attract talent with specialized skill sets to keep up with the pace and technological digital stream, and lastly, the open and transparent employment brand.

The dynamic change of the world of work is shifting the landscape of how organizations should engage with their talent in the Middle East. In a region growing at an unparalleled pace as regards population and regulatory requirements, attracting and retaining skilled talent is highly competitive. With the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) being an expatriate hub and with the growing demand to attract nationals, keeping employees engaged poses a great challenge to organizations. “Employee engagement,” as described by most experts, is the employee’s job satisfaction, loyalty and inclination to expend discretionary effort toward organizational goals. It is a known formula–having a highly engaged workforce drives high performance thus generating business results and an improved organizational impact. Easier said than done!

Organizations today are faced with a great challenge to engage with a workforce that is very diverse; composed of several generations with generation Y (the Millennials) on the rise, estimated to make up to 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, a gender mix, dispersed teams, and a mobile workforce demanding different experiences and work flexibility. In the GCC, cultural diversity is quite high, with one organization capable of employing over 30 nationalities in the same location. Clearly implementing a one-size-fits-all approach towards employee engagement will not work. The way people are engaged may vary from one individual to the other but ultimately if an organization conducts the appropriate interventions and redefines engagement, then they are on their way to fostering change in the organizational culture. 

Shifting gears

While many organizations conduct employer engagement surveys, not many have been successful in devising actionable solutions to create tangible business outcomes and make the organization “irresistible.” According to a study published in the Deloitte Review–“Becoming irresistible: a new model for employee engagement”–work contracts have changed to favor the employee, forcing business leaders to learn how to build an organization that engages employees as “sensitive, passionate and creative contributors.” The shift is to move from improving employee engagement to focusing on building an irresistible organization. This is a winning formula regardless of where the organization is located on the map. Deloitte research conducted across 150 countries among top executives indicates that employee engagement in the Middle East, based on survey respondents, was considered “of importance to business leaders.” The key change to be made is for organizations in the Middle East, if not already doing so, to introduce a more frequent method of measuring engagement versus annual or bi-annual surveys only, through pulse surveys and real-time feedback systems. It is well proven that when employees feel empowered and have a high sense of ownership of their careers, their engagement is significantly higher. Organizations within the Middle East region must pick up this pace and constantly measure employee engagement, or they will be left behind. Millennials are invading the workforce and they are not loyal to the organizations, they are loyal to themselves. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, many Millennials have one foot out the door with two in three Millennials expected to leave their current organization by 2020. Taking into account the Middle East’s young population, this is alarming to any organization.

Make work “irresistible”

Deloitte research suggests that we need to rethink the problem. There are three issues to address as indicated in the research:

  1. Organizations need to expand their thinking about what “engagement” means today, giving managers and leaders specific practices they can adopt, and holding line leaders accountable.
  2. Organizations need tools and methods that measure and capture employee feedback and sentiment on a real-time, local basis so they can continuously adjust management practices and the work environment at a local level. These tools include employee feedback systems as well as data analytics systems that help identify and predict factors that create low engagement and retention problems.
  3. Leaders in business and human resources need to raise employee engagement from an HR program to a core business strategy.

Make work meaningful. Set and implement the appropriate tools to identify the right fit of people for the right job. Provide employees with the opportunity to feel part of teams, make decisions, and have an imprint and contribute to the success of the organization; while equipping them with the resources and developmental opportunities they need to succeed. With the rapid change of jobs within the current employee pool, organizations need to develop their people more quickly and provide a regular cycle of promotion so employees continuously feel they are adding value. Lastly, give people time to think, create and rest as this has a great impact on engagement, as per a Harvard Business Review research paper.

Foster great management. Direct managers have the day-to-day interaction with the people allowing them to develop and grow. One of the key engagement drivers for people is when goals are visible and transparent to them. Great managers support people in setting actionable goals that are revisited regularly throughout the year. They invest their time in employees through coaching and mentoring. Research has proven that a coaching culture is highly correlated with a high performance organization and employee engagement.

Establish a positive work environment. The nature of life has completely shifted and for leaders to engage their people, they must give them a flexible and supportive work environment. Studies show that 68 percent of women would rather have more free time than make more money. Organizations within the Middle East must all introduce flexible work arrangement policies for both women and men. With the employment rate for women at 26 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, one of the lowest worldwide according to World Bank estimates, taking action to introduce such policies is no longer a perk but an essential component to make work fit into life through accessing the women talent pool; thus enhancing business performance. Another key driver to a positive engaged work environment is recognition. Building a recognition culture that is tied to the business strategy and allowing people to be involved through peer-to-peer recognition, will have an impact on engagement. Recognition is everyone’s business starting from the leadership group within the organization. The words “thank you” do come a long way. Lastly, a highly engaged workforce is generally a diverse workforce being multigenerational, gender-balanced and multi-cultured. Diversity and inclusion is a must-have and should be a business strategy that is embedded into the DNA of every organization.

Provide opportunities for growth. Both formal and informal learning opportunities are a critical engagement component in any organization allowing leaders to push employees out of their comfort zone and stretching their capabilities through ongoing developmental opportunities. Another area is fostering mobility: allowing people to explore different types of assignments and roles. Finally, organizations should look at their management and leadership behaviors to make sure they foster a learning culture. Most leaders are rewarded for generating business and making the numbers. While this is certainly essential, leaders should also be rewarded for developing people, moving them into the most effective roles, and keeping retention high.

Establish a sense of purpose. The final and perhaps the most important area to being “irresistible” is when an organization has a clear sense of purpose and vision which is transparent across the organization and lived by every day. With the Millennials representing larger segments of the workforce, corporate values that are shared with and believed by Millennials promote loyalty, particularly when employers demonstrate a strong sense of company purpose beyond financial success, according to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey. Leaders should continuously invest in their people by spending money on learning and providing them with their time through regular team meetings and providing feedback to drive a high impact work environment. Lastly, leaders should focus on being “inspiring leaders” by walking the talk through making a distinct leadership impact, leading by example, building a strong sense of team, and inspiring loyalty and followership. This will be cascaded down all the way within the organization. When organizations offer people a vision and purpose greater than financial return, they attract passionate individuals who want to contribute and make an impact every day. This is what makes people want to get up and go to work every day with an intention to stay.

On compensation. Notice that throughout this article there is no mention of compensation. Research has proven that if employees are fairly paid and compensated, then pay is just a hygiene factor and has no direct correlation to engagement. Increasing compensation will not make people more engaged nor make them stay within the organization.

In summary

Engagement is the responsibility of the entire organization and most importantly leaders. Given the dynamic workforce within the Middle East region, organizations have a more complex challenge to deal with to keep their people engaged. The focus should be around transparent practices coupled with a strong internal communication strategy that keeps people constantly motivated. One common engagement finding within the Middle East region is that people always feel the need to be recognized.

An engaged workforce will be committed to the organization, have pride to be part of the organization, be satisfied, as well as advocate the organization both internally and externally. Highly engaged employees multiplied with an enabling work environment will result in high organizational performance.

There should be constant efforts to determine people’s level of engagement to attract and retain the best. It is about doing many things right through redefining engagement and keeping up with the changing workforce and talent economy.


By Maya Rafii Zaatari, Director, Human Resources, Deloitte, Middle East



  1. 2016 Deloitte Millennial survey
  2. 2016 Human Capital trends
  3. Josh Bersin, “Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement,” Deloitte Review, Deloitte University press, January 2015



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