In late 2022, four thousand employees working in four GCC countries – Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar – took part in the McKinsey Health Institute survey to assess workforces’ mental, physical, social, and spiritual health. The report found that two-thirds of employees reported poor mental health and well-being, and one in three people suffered burnout symptoms.
Overall, three-quarters of respondents reported being happy at work, and the report concluded that employers’ targeted actions could help improve staff mental health.
In the Middle East, companies increasingly recognize the importance of prioritizing their employees’ mental health. Post-pandemic, businesses have had to learn to adapt to their staff’s evolving well-being needs, with many employees now preferring to work from home than return to the office full-time.
Any thoughts of a daily commute are seemingly in the past. However, now more companies are keen for staff to return to the office.
The pandemic highlighted the businesses’ need to offer genuine mental health benefits to workforces, superficial perks like snacks and a pool table no longer cutting it.
BOTTOM LINE SUCCESS
More and more employers are acknowledging that a healthy workforce is not only beneficial to the individual but also to the success of their bottom line. This has not gone unnoticed across the GCC, with more companies now offering a range of mental health initiatives and programs to support their workforce.
These efforts include mental health awareness hours, flexible working, work-from-home days, and even access to online counseling sessions.
WSP, a leading engineering professional services consulting firm with offices throughout the Middle East, says mental health is now at the forefront of its workplace.
In 2019, the company introduced its Mental Health First Aiders initiative to respond should anyone want to discuss mental health concerns. The company introduced a Wellness Day in 2021 – an extra paid day of leave, and it also hosts regular internal webinars with professionals from The Lighthouse Arabia and King’s College Hospital London.
MENTAL HEALTH INITIATIVES
“Our ethos is that great people demand great workplaces, which are supportive and empower reasonable flexibility for people to develop and nurture their well-being,” says Richard Stilgoe, HR Director, WSP Middle East.
“We recently launched MyWellbeingCheck, an online-based tool that enables our people to evaluate and enhance their holistic well-being via a personalized dashboard specifically designed to assess well-being across nine key lifestyle areas,” he adds.
Stilgoe added that the wellness initiatives have drastically increased in popularity and success since the pandemic.
Artists working in the Middle East are benefitting from recent mental health initiatives. Art Jameel, headquartered in Saudi Arabia and with a base in the UAE, has dedicated five days to mental health for the last two years.
“On two of these days, we down tools — no meetings or checking emails or Slack,” says Director Antonia Carver. “The other three days are spent on learning, which could be taking courses, doing research, or pursuing a new skill.”
The business employs 60 people across Jeddah and Dubai. Carver says she has to ensure employees are protected from burnout, especially as the creative industry isn’t your typical nine-to-five job.
“Our work involves running public-facing centers, open six days (and evenings) a week, and with workshops, talks, festivals, and events happening most weekends.”
“We work a 4.5 day week in Dubai, but of course, the weekends differ now across the UAE and KSA, so team members could easily slip in being ‘on’ across a six-day week, so while the two days a year may seem only a gesture, it does tend to serve as a reminder, and as everyone is off altogether, there’s a real sense of pause on those days.”
Another Middle East-based company working 4.5 day weeks is PR agency TishTash, which employs over 50 people, most of whom are in the GCC.
Along with a weekly work-from-home policy, the company introduced a Work From Your Home Country initiative to give employees more time with friends and family.
Founder and CEO Natasha Hatherall-Shawe explains, “When you live away from your home country, you typically eat into your vacation time when going home and spending time with friends and family, which, if you ask an expat, isn’t a holiday at all.”
“We wholeheartedly trust our employees to get the job done, so we introduced the policy that employees to either take a full month out of the office to work from another country, or they have the option to split it into two,” she adds.
The Swiss International School Dubai also prioritizes well-being with initiatives such as a “peace pod,” a device-free room equipped with massage chairs and calming music.
Staff also attend sunrise yoga sessions every Friday and Zumba classes to end the week. This is in addition to a running club and free access to an on-site gym and sporting facilities.
Along with exercise benefits, the school also has a Dedicated Wellness Committee, regular staff social events, and an extra day’s leave known as a Be Good to Yourself Day.
As the work-life landscape continues to evolve across the Middle East and awareness grows around positive mental health’s impact on productivity, innovation, and employee satisfaction, more businesses are integrating well-being initiatives into the workday.
Moreover, the UAE adopted the National Strategy for Well-being 2031, which aims to make the UAE a world leader in quality of life by promoting well-being and good mental health across the country, keeping people happier for longer.
“Our mental health initiatives have been in place for over two years, and in that time, retention has increased as well – the highest level since the school opened in 2005,” says Alison Roberts, Head of Marketing and Admissions at Swiss International School Dubai. “It has also been a great way of meeting new friends, especially for new staff.”
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