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Employees will respond in kind when they know they are valued


he current flux of regional business news runs between positivity and pessimism with remarkable regularity. One day oil prices and property markets depress the mood. The next, new hiring and stock markets raise expectations. Forecasts of shrinking budgets bump up against stories of ambitious mega-projects, and rising consumer prices mingle with news of boosted revenues.


Whatever this portends for the actual economic outlook, it is clear many organisations are pre-emptively responding to this uncertainty by looking at their workforce costs. For many employees, this raises two immediate concerns – whether their job still exists, and whether their pay still makes it worthwhile. For employers, it also raises another important issue – in times of tightening belts and smaller pay rises, how do you keep your workforce on track and engaged in what they do?


Countless studies into the motivations of employees have consistently demonstrated that salaries – although certainly a key concern – are far from the sole incentive that keeps people at a particular company. Frequently, a range of non-financial factors are found to play a major role in retaining employees – particularly in relation to top-performing, in-demand talents who can jump ship with relative ease.


When bonuses and increments are in shorter supply, these non-cash incentives become even more important, and every leader should be thinking about the best ways to use them to keep their own staff interested.


A good place to start is in demonstrating that more challenging economic conditions are not unduly affecting an organisation’s overall stability and that job security is not in question. People are happier to stick by a company which sticks by them, and will respond more positively where an organisation has a sense of permanence, not panic.


Professionals also respond well to recognition of their achievements – whether this is through noting performances in an internal email, a formal “Employee of the Month” initiative, or simply a manager providing constructive feedback on a job well done. Public acknowledgement of performance feeds an individual’s personal and professional pride and helps to build their sense of a reputation within your organisation that they are keen to maintain.


This might also lead to more tangible advancements – such as a shift upwards in terms of status or delegated authority. This could be by recognising consistent and reliable performance with greater decision-making powers, or through providing an opportunity to take the lead on an important project. These kinds of advancements demonstrate the faith your organisation has in its people, and helps employees to see a clear path to future development and promotion opportunities within your business.


The atmosphere of a workplace and its teams should also not be underestimated. Cynics might wince at the thought of team-building initiatives, but many seasoned employees will be able to think of a past role that rose or fell on their relations with immediate colleagues. The truth is that our working environment can be a significant part of our overall attachment to a job.


As a leader, you can play a role in reinforcing both recognition and atmosphere through direct contact with employees – maybe on a one-to-one basis, or in something like a focus group. This can provide a forum to canvass for new ideas and suggestions, generating potentially useful business ideas while highlighting how much you value the opinions and experience of your employees. Simply being visible and engaged within the wider organisation also helps to remove the division between leader and led, and drives a more cohesive and friendlier atmosphere.


Non-financial incentives take longer to have an effect than a bump in salary, and it is perhaps difficult for leaders and employees alike to believe that a professional pat on the back could be as effective as a 5 per cent pay hike. It is true that people are unlikely to work for free, but – harder times or not – they are more likely to remain loyal and engaged to an organisation where their skills and contribution are properly appreciated.


Ahmad Badr is the chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.


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