Despite strategies promoting the employment of nationals in private sector organisations across the Middle East, most employees still favour government jobs, according to new research by Gallup.

Its 2017 State of the Global Workplace report found that, overall, 58 per cent of MENA residents would prefer a job working for the government rather than a business, compared to 37 per cent globally. The figures were higher in the Gulf States, with 63 per cent of Saudi residents saying they would rather work for the government, along with 62 per cent of those in the UAE, 61 per cent in Kuwait and 60 per cent in Bahrain.

‘“Lack of private sector investment, often coupled with a mismatch between citizens’ skills and training and the needs of private employers, leads many in the region to seek government jobs,” said the report.

It recommended that, for their part, private sector employers could appeal to young people by emphasising a strong sense of purpose in their organisation, as well as a focus on ongoing developmental opportunities for employees.

“Like millennial-age residents in other regions, many young Arabs are idealistic and future-oriented. Private businesses that offer them chances to bring about positive change in the region and to continually develop their own potential may be particularly likely to overcome the regional bias toward government jobs,” according to Gallup.

The report, which summarises data from 155 countries on how effectively employers and governments are using the human capital in their workforces, suggested there were several factors limiting human capital development in the MENA region – the most prevalent being religious and cultural norms that restrict women’s participation in the labour force. As much as 70 per cent of the region’s women aged between 23 and 65 are outside the workforce, it said.

However, rising education levels among women and changing attitudes toward their rights could see things change. Saudi Arabia recently announced that women will able to hold a driving licence from next June and restrictions were also lifted on the government’s requirement for women to have permission from their guardian to be able to work or study.

Low engagement was also highlighted as an area which has significant room for improvement – however, this is the case globally, with 85 per cent of employees either not engaged or actively disengaged in their job. In the UAE, only 16 per cent of employees felt they were engaged at work.

Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace management and wellbeing at Gallup, said that while the UAE fares better than most of the rest of the world – including the major economies of the UK, Germany, Japan, and the remainder of the MENA region – HR leaders must accelerate the transformation of workplace cultures, and the reimagining of performance management systems, in order to raise engagement.

“One of the greatest opportunities for the UAE is to continue its positive strategy of getting younger residents actively involved and excited about the workplace,” he told People Management.

The report put forward a model designed to achieve understanding around how workplace conditions affect employees’ emotional health and life satisfaction, and to help boost employee happiness initiatives. The model is based on four components: engagement, trust, positivity and integration. Employees with positive perceptions in each of these areas are more likely to see their work as a calling rather than just a job, according to the report.

It also suggested that talented managers are key to workplace happiness, with the research showing managers were responsible for at least 70 per cent of the variance in their employees’ engagement. Based on this, Gallup recommends that employers select managers based on their suitability to the role, rather than their performance in a previous non-managerial role.

“With younger workers less engaged than older workers, HR leaders need to ensure that they are putting in place talented managers who see themselves more as a coach than a boss and are focused on giving their followers a connection to an organisation’s mission and purpose with clear expectations, ongoing coaching, and accountability,” added Harter.

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