Etisalat employees have a smile on their faces for two reasons – the telecom provider scooped the award for Innovation in Employee Engagement at the most recent HR Summit in Dubai, while a new survey revealed 90 per cent of staff are proud to work at the company and 84 per cent report a high level of job satisfaction. With incentives including an all-expenses paid, week-long trip to Japan for the company's ‘Breakthrough Outstanding Project Contributors’, it's no wonder that motivation levels are soaring.

But engagement isn’t high just because Etisalat showers employees with gifts – the positive engagement results are due to a well-thought-out strategy, according to the firm.

“Employee engagement is a journey,” says Hatim A Al Nuaimi, VP HR Planning and Strategy. “Our management has achieved a balance between efficiency and employee engagement. Firstly, we had to ensure that all our people were able to understand the true meaning of ‘engagement’. At an early stage, some people confuse employee engagement and satisfaction, but in reality it is the relationship between the employee and the company and therefore it is the responsibility of both parties.

“We had to use one-to-one sessions, focus groups and training sessions to shift the mindset of people and explain how engagement is a collaboration, and that it’s not just up to the company to engage the employee.”

The market has become very dynamic, and Al Nuaimi believes that whereas once it would be acceptable to take five years to enact change, now things need to change very rapidly – which posed challenges in terms of changing employee mindsets. “Sometimes, employees were not interested in accepting certain initiatives, and so we had to arrange change management sessions,” he adds.

A company-wide employee engagement programme is aligned with the corporate vision of ‘Driving the digital future to empower societies’. It empowers staff and invites them to submit their feedback through multiple channels such as surveys, focus groups, opinion polls and a staff suggestion scheme. The feedback is used to enhance, develop and expand the programme. Annual events such as Wellness Week, Spirit of Happiness Week, and Travel Week are made possible by the feedback received, in addition to mechanisms that provide staff with both incentive- and non-incentive-based rewards.

Etisalat’s employee engagement results have increased year on year. “This is a direct result of the top-down focus on the engagement agenda,” says Syed Farhan Alvi, senior manager HR Strategy. “This is evident in the 13 per cent increase in the employee engagement index between 2014 and 2017. Our response rate has also increased by 20 per cent in three years, demonstrating genuine staff involvement within the company.”

Additionally, almost 90 per cent of staff believe that senior leadership is committed to providing high quality products and services to external customers; and the majority of employees say Etisalat sets clear performance standards for product and service quality.

One of many initiatives for 2017 included the Spot Recognition Award. “Spot awards are a flexible tool that empower people to recognise others. Any member of staff can give reward points to colleagues, which can be converted into credit for their mobile bill payments, or to buy an iPhone or laptop etc. You can even reward your boss,” says Al Nuaimi. That means rewards don’t only come from the top down, but can also come from the bottom up and from peers.

Syed Alvi adds: “We constantly challenge ourselves to look at new, innovative ways to engage staff. Despite prevailing market conditions, we transformed our engagement model in accordance with best practice model of ‘Five Essential Elements of Well-Being’ – career, social, financial, physical, and community well-being.”

It means the wellness programme has become more holistic; not only does it provide free health check-ups for employees, but also gives staff the chance to attend professional talks on stress management and financial planning, as well as ensuring employees are offered healthy food from a specialist provider. Wellness is no longer a topic that is only examined for one week a year – there are now three annual wellness events with interim activities.

Team activity day has also been important in increasing engagement. HR allocates budgets to departments which are entrusted to spend on an activity that benefits all members of the team – even the contingent workforce.

Syed Alvi explains that Etisalat has stimulated engagement through innovative management tactics: a unique deployment methodology; engagement committees and a network of ‘Engagement Champions’; employee feedback mechanisms; and the branding of reward and recognition programmes.

Because engagement is treated as a prime business initiative, it has become key to driving performance and the achievement of corporate objectives. “As a major pillar in the HR strategy and excellence initiatives, employee engagement is also a crucial aspect of the HR strategy roadmap,” says Alvi.

Etisalat’s staff come from more than 80 countries, which highlights the need for engagement initiatives to appeal to all cultures, a challenge the business seems to have met. “Our multicultural and diverse employees are the reason we have formulated so many different best practices which have led to high engagement,” says Al Nuaimi.

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