With the UAE’s oil and gas industry losing prominence, other sectors, such as tourism, the creative industries and IT have come to the fore – and it could be argued that this has changed the image and ‘brand’ of the UAE as a place to work.

The government is focusing on sustainable initiatives, organisations are broadening reward and benefit offerings, and judging by the number of wellness professionals, organisations are prioritising health rather than money. All this means there is a new wave of professionals who view the UAE as a bona fide place to live and work on a long-term basis.

A recent report by headhunters Departer, which looked at German, Swiss and Austrian companies in the UAE, found career development to be the primary reason for individuals relocating. While some interviewees said potential salary was a motivating factor, the possibility of gaining international work experience was a key reason for moving. The high standard of living, together with the culture, weather and the opportunity to improve language skills, further increased the attractiveness of the UAE as a working destination.

Statistics from Departer’s report suggest expatriates are staying in the UAE on a long-term basis, with 52 per cent of those surveyed having lived there for between five and 15 years, while 11 per cent have been in the country for more than 15 years. But not everyone agrees.

“The psychological contract has certainly changed, but I think this is more to do with mutual obligations – from employers to develop and nurture talent, and from employees to be engaged and apply discretionary effort – than it is to do with timescales,” said Professor William Scott-Jackson, chairman at Oxford Strategic Consulting and director of research and development at the Arab Society of Human Resource Management.

“In fact, I think we are seeing shorter contract periods as employers and employees respond more easily to changes in market needs and their own development. Previously, we often found expats who had been in companies on contracts for years without making any particular contribution.”

But Korn Ferry Hay Group regional director, EMEA, Vijay Gandhi, said there is a trend of employees who come to the UAE with the intention of working for two to three years, but stay longer.

“Due to limited salary budgets, organisations are coming up with different ways to keep employee engagement high. More organisations are allowing flexible working hours, longer maternity leave, and on-site day care. Employers today have employee-focused initiatives that are designed to help staff advance in their careers and enjoy a better work-life balance,” said Gandhi. “Organisations are now focusing on both tangible and emotional rewards to improve employee productivity.”

Scott-Jackson said there has been a gradual change over the past few years as the market – particularly government employers – has grown more sophisticated in the deployment of expat resources, combined with the increasing skills, value and competitiveness of nationals.

“All in all, employers don’t feel the need to offer extravagant salaries, but a more balanced package of opportunity,” he said. “I think it’s not so much that expats have changed their motivations, but that the ‘buyers’ have changed the deal and are therefore attracting more committed, engaged and interested candidates. There is still the lure of the exotic to some extent, but these days it’s more about job interest, development and experience than pure money.”

A recent report on compensation and benefits trends in the Middle East, published by Korn Ferry Hay Group, revealed a decline in the number of companies issuing salary increases to their employees. Twenty-five per cent of surveyed companies in the UAE awarded a pay rise to less than half of their employees. The report said that slow growth, triggered partially by the uncertainty of the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT), low oil prices and inflation were the main reasons behind stalling pay rises, and consequently, more diverse rewards and benefits.

Kristina Vaneva, associate director employee marketing, Atlantis, The Palm, acknowledged that the brand of the UAE has changed, “mainly due to the UAE’s job market becoming more versatile”.

“I believe it will continue to grow and diversify, changing the image and brand of this nation as a whole,” she said.

“The UAE has moved towards creating prospects in various industries and markets such as finance, tourism, hospitality, exhibitions, learning/education, medicine and technology, which is bringing people from all walks of life. Moreover, the brand is synonymous with innovation and ‘making the impossible, possible’; with concepts such as the ‘happiest’ and ‘fittest’ city in the world, who knows what’s coming next?”

Vaneva added that research shows engaged employees do not rank salaries as the number one reason to stay. Instead, the relationships they build with their co-workers and their immediate supervisors weigh heavily. “What counts most is the sense of belonging that our colleagues have here,” she said.

Scott-Jackson said that, for several years, OSC has been advising UAE employers to modify the psychological contract they have with their employees in order to encourage engagement and offer opportunities for professionals to increase their value. “We do see this changing as the market gets more sophisticated,” he said.

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