As an HR professional in Dubai, I am excited to be working towards strengthening our sector’s capabilities, with the UAE’s ‘Vision 2021’ in mind. The region has approximately 70 private colleges and universities, bringing with it a number of competitive challenges, within HR and the education industry as a whole, as we look to boost our world standing.

In the HR department at Middlesex University Dubai, we have embraced the digitalised world, improving the automation of systems and analytical processes in order to make data-driven decisions. However, we recognise that so much of what makes up an organisation’s value are intangible assets created by people – and in many cases, the people themselves.

Distinguished psychologists have theorised that human beings are communal creatures who enjoy the company of, and depend on, others. Simply to exist as a stable human being requires interaction with other people.

With that in mind, our strategy at the university keeps in mind the ‘human side of things’, going back to basics with our axiom ‘let’s work together’, and treating each other with respect and courtesy as we work for personal, team and business growth.

Lead by the director Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, HR at the university has matured into a high development and performance culture, with our strategy designed to reach our ultimate goal to be more employee-friendly, social and agile.

Our aim is to increase our level of engagement through the employee experience, the results of which we hope will radiate down to impact the happiness and contentment of the increasing number of academic students we teach each year, and in turn, silently, impacting our bottom line.

We acknowledge a simple, but legitimate, quote by Dave Ulrich: “People are our greatest asset”. We strive to select excellent leaders who attract and lead diverse talent from a variety of national and international platforms, and to recruit employees with the right attitude for the future. Our mindset within recruitment is: What do we want our organisation to look like by 2021?

We have also re-engineered our performance management process in order to drive communication and engagement. A continuous listening and feedback strategy for line managers goes further than employee surveys, which, according to a recent People Management article, may only be highly effective if respondents can send their comments anonymously.

We conduct in-depth and engaging on-boarding sessions for our new faculty. Our people advance through training and development sessions, as well as annual opportunities for career progression through our promotions policy.

Aside from our total reward initiatives, we have built spacious, bright offices and classrooms for our staff, acknowledging the importance of the physical environment our employees work in. A gym with a personal coach and summer yoga classes, for example, provide them with the tools they require to be as productive and happy as they can be within our ‘let’s work together’ sentiment.

For the last two years, HR has also coordinated charity runs with staff participation, lunchtime seminars for employees with prominent local guest speakers, and a corporate Iftar for employees and their families. An ice cream/cake event is held every month for all staff to celebrate colleagues’ birthdays falling within that month, while the addition of our new fantail goldfish, Yin and Yang, to the HR office has brought a smile to employees’ and students’ faces. Far from being a distraction, studies have actually shown that goldfish aquariums can reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure.

The difficulty we have in HR is that ‘one size does not fit all’ and what works for us may not work for other universities and visa versa. But for us, changes need to happen all the time in order for us to deliver a contemporary and memorable employee experience that is human-centered and customer-focused in such a fast paced environment.

Claudia Maher MA HRM, BA (Hons), MCIPD, is human resources manager at Middlesex University Dubai

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