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Here’s a business case for retaining valued employees in the Middle East

As turnover rates continue to rise, leaders must consider the long-term effects, say experts.

Here’s a business case for retaining valued employees in the Middle East
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Raya, a skilled professional with a proven track record in various positions, faces a dilemma. Her current company insists on all employees returning to the office, which poses a significant challenge for her as she has a one-year-old child at home. Despite successfully managing her job responsibilities while caring for her newborn in the past, her current company fails to understand her need for a flexible work arrangement. Feeling frustrated and seeking a better work-life balance, Raya makes the decision to actively explore new job opportunities that offer the flexibility to work from home.

Raya’s story resonates with many.  However, there is much more at play. 

In the current economic environment, with competing market forces, research suggests a profound change in people’s attitudes toward their jobs. It’s not dissatisfied employees leaving; even those with long-term positions are more open to new jobs than ever. 

“Some employers believe employees leave for higher compensation or benefits. They fail to look within to determine whether there are poor management behaviors, lack of transparency, toxic work culture, or lack of growth that may drive turnover rates,” says Jeanette Teh, a personal development coach at KSky Coaching.

Employees are also opposed to rigid organizational structures. 

As turnover rates continue to soar, a recent report on employee attitudes, including those in the Middle East, examines the profound effects of the Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, and the Invisible Revolution.

“Research says the same key factors emerge as to why employees leave their organizations: a lack of work-life balance, a lack of growth, learning and career progression, and perceived poor management or leadership practices or dysfunctional culture in the workplace,” says Dr. Robert Chandler, Clinical Psychologist and Director, Corporate and Workplace Services at Lighthouse Arabia. 


There is no simple answer to retention strategies. It’s an iceberg hiding in plain sight. According to a report by Michael Page, eight in ten employees in the UAE (80%) said they are satisfied with their current workloads and half (51%) are happy with their salaries, and the same (50%) feel content in their roles overall. This shows that employees can be broadly happy in a position but still have one eye on their next move.

“An ‘on-call’ culture that leaders expect drives poor work-life balance, resulting in higher overall stress, which impacts the employee’s willingness and motivation to learn and grow. Given the competition for top talent, organizations prioritizing positive facets are a much more attractive prospect,” says Dr. Chandler.

 In the face of an employee’s resignation, employers may try to counter-offer with a raise or a promotion they had long sought. “By then, the employee has been unhappy for months or years and would not be persuaded by such eleventh-hour efforts,” says Teh. 

While many quick fixes to stop a valuable employee from leaving exist and have been used as a band-aid to fix the problem, employers need to introspect if there are high turnover rates. 


“Employees, especially millennials and Gen-Z, seek meaning and purpose to feel fully engaged and committed to their work,” says Teh.

She cites a popular story of the late US President John F. Kennedy’s meeting a janitor at NASA, who proudly asserted, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon,” as an example of how the janitor was able to find meaning in his work beyond the responsibilities of cleaning the space organization. 

“Research has shown that finding meaning in our work increases employee engagement, motivation, job satisfaction, and better performance,” adds Teh. 

Agreeing with Teh, Nerice Gietel, founder and certified coach at the Career Lounge, says, “What employers are getting wrong is the failure to understand all the things that motivate their employees to work.” 

Besides salary, many employees seek recognition; what is of essence is a feeling of belonging that comes from an inclusive work culture, flexibility that allows them to integrate their work and life satisfactorily, and opportunities to grow and develop. 

To drive purpose, Teh notes some easy ways for managers to begin is to explain the “why” behind tasks they assign and how much value their team member is bringing to the project or the organization or being appreciative of their direct reports’ efforts, providing feedback, and acknowledging their work.

“Be more transparent in decisions they make and share information about company strategies, policies, and workforce plans to help employees do their jobs with greater insights, alleviate concerns, keep them interested, and make them feel valued contributors to the company’s success,” she says. 

Long-term retention is possible through praise, recognition, autonomy, extensive training opportunities, or time off for learning, training that focuses on personal and professional development, says Gietel.

Money and promotion aside, Teh says there are several ways to incentivize employees. These include offering paid days off several times a year to do volunteer work or other philanthropic endeavors, recognizing that employees have a life outside of work, or providing flexibility in where they perform their work, enabling them to have a work-life rhythm.

“Talent retention must start with ensuring employees feel they can bring their best selves to work. This emerges from the feeling that they are making a meaningful contribution to their teams and the broader company and that there is a recognition that they have lives outside of work,” says Teh. 


Dr. Chandler says that despite a million quick solutions, employers need to think long-term. “The first question any leadership group with high staff turnover should be asking is: what is the long-term cost to the business of continuing to work in the way that we do?” 

Many companies explicitly state that they value work-life balance for their employees. Still, he says there is often an implicit assumption that employees should be available “on-call” and work beyond their contracted hours. 

“This dissonance between what is said versus what is reality is felt by employees,” he adds.

Leaders should model disconnection in the evenings, weekends, and vacations and call out employees who do not follow this example.

“If appropriate, offer flexible working models: current data suggests that most employees will not choose to work from home more than three days per week, but knowing there is the option gives a sense of choice and autonomy,” he explains.

According to Dr. Chandler, employers must take stock of why learning and growth are basic human needs. 

“Ensure access to high-quality coaching, mentorship, and shadowing opportunities is available. Allow employees to step outside of their comfort zone and attend meetings, conferences, or seminars that challenge them, even if it is not explicitly part of their role. This can be a significant time investment for leaders, but it pays off in the long run. If employees are growing, they are generally more motivated and engaged,” he says.

What about those resigning because of unfit cultures? How can employers change something that runs through the company’s nerve center? “Getting a company culture right starts with establishing strong values, which guide the organization’s behavior, decisions, and interactions. Clearly communicating these values creates a shared understanding of what the company stands for,” says Dr. Chandler.

Citing an example of a company that values “respect,” ensuring that feedback practices are standardized and harsh and punitive feedback practices are eradicated, he says, “subsequent actions need to be aligned with company values.”

Employees leave when they feel their careers or learning stagnates.

“Managers should proactively discuss career objectives with their team members, understand their ambitions, describe advancement opportunities and career paths, and clarify the steps and actions required for professional mobility,” says Teh. 

“This will enable their employees to visualize a future within the organization, feel like they belong, and not seek better opportunities elsewhere,” she adds.

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Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More

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