There’s no shortage of bad press about the working environment for migrant blue-collar workers in the GCC.

And while some of this may be exaggerated or misunderstood, it’s often a challenge for HR to ensure migrant employees’ wellbeing is a key consideration – and to get the message across that attending to their motivation is not just the right thing to do, but good business sense too.

Turnover can be the key to this conversation, say experts. Migrant workers can be seen as expendable by some business leaders, but a high turnover is expensive and needless. Businesses that go beyond the legal minimum normally save money in the long run.

“People think ‘I’ll just get another employee’ but attrition needs to be tracked, so that HR can inform the finance department, board and CEO that the cost of hiring a person is ‘X’,”says Steve MacLaren, regional head of distribution, human capital and benefits at Al Futtaim Willis Co.

Taking care of employees’ physical health is intrinsic to their wider wellbeing and productivity. Instead of opting for the minimum level of medical cover, companies should look at how they can give improved accessibility to better-quality clinics and hospitals by paying a bit more.

“It’s relatively inexpensive to do this,” says MacLaren. “Companies should also look at their percentage for attrition and try to reduce it – then show the savings.

“Spending just 50 per cent more on medical insurance gives a far better return than the cost of losing employees. Improving people’s health and making them happy makes them more efficient at work.”

The next stage is behavioural change. “A lot of migrant workers are not educated enough to know about health and safety – for example, why it’s important for them to wash their hands, or why they should drink enough water,” says MacLaren.

He believes there is a good argument for HR to employ coaches for migrant workers. “The majority won’t have emails, so the best way to do it would be face to face,” he adds.

Motivating blue-collar migrant workers can prove difficult because of a lack of career aspiration or the simple fact that there is no progression on offer. However, for a minimal investment it is possible to show workers they are cared for, argues MacLaren. This could be done by having a Tagalog, Hindi or Urdu-speaking mentor educating and motivating workers about how to look after themselves.

Employers could also consider diet or exercise as easy wins. “Maybe we should try to change food to ensure employees are getting a healthy, balanced diet,” suggests MacLaren. “This wouldn’t involve a huge cost, but most employers will not take that spend on board.

I don’t know of any company that has looked at that for blue-collar workers. “It would be beneficial to have a happy migrant workforce. Employers could put a wellness or happiness committee together, which is very appropriate in Dubai given there’s now a minister of happiness.”

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