The standardisation of employee health cover in the UAE means organisations need to offer something a little bit different if they want to stand out, according to a new study.

MetLife’s Employee Benefit Trends Study 2017: The Power of Employee Benefits in a Fast Changing Workplace analysed the impact of changes to the benefit landscape in the last three years, including the requirement for all employers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to offer a private health insurance scheme to employees.

It found that these changes, set against a backdrop of broader economic change and the region’s disappointing level of lifestyle-related diseases, such as heart conditions and diabetes, has resulted in a transition where “more targeted government spending and an influx of private insurance providers has led to a standardisation of health cover” at a time when employees are becoming more conscious of their health and wellness status.

According to MetLife, this creates an opportunity for employers to attract and retain the best talent using benefits that go above and beyond the mandated provisions.

From customised employee benefits packages, and extensive wellness programmes, to helping employers address financial stress in the workplace, there are plenty of possibilities for organisations to stand out, it said.

Some of the most appealing benefits to employees were dental and optical cover, medical discount cards for family and a retirement or pension plan.

The report also referenced research by Hays Worldwide, which suggested that despite a sluggish economy, recruitment was not set to slow, “making the employee value position particularly important”.

“The Hays report shows that career development and a benefits package are the two most significant reasons for choosing a new employer,” said MetLife. Pay was the most important aspect when it came to internal moves, whereas benefits were more of a motivating factor when it came to moving to a new employer. Despite these findings, 61 per cent of employees said benefits were a motivating factor in staying with their employer.

There was also demand for benefits to be delivered through digital channels with more digitally savvy millennial employees in the workplace, noted the report. At the other end of the scale, employees taking on caregiver roles has also impacted benefit planning.

For employers, enhanced employee engagement and productivity are a big focus, said MetLife, with the report revealing that 66 per cent of organisations providing wellness programmes reported increased employee satisfaction, and the same percentage saw improved productivity.

The report added that while the other five Emirates are yet to enact mandatory health coverage, they are expected to follow in the footsteps of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

It was recently announced that private sector workers in Oman would benefit from the right to health insurance, paid for by their employers, from 2018.

However with medical costs rising faster than other remuneration components, such as salary and allowances, providing an attractive employee benefits package could become increasingly challenging for organisations in the Middle East, according to a recent survey by Mercer Marsh Benefits.

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