As the world emerges from the Great Reshuffle and enters an era of economic uncertainty, employee flexibility and benefits introduced during the pandemic are now at risk. New C-level research from LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, finds that the current global climate is slowing down progress in important areas of working life such as skills development (93%), employee wellbeing (89%), and flexible work (76%) across UAE businesses.
The LinkedIn study, surveying 2,900+ C-level executives from large companies across the world, shows that leaders are still grappling with flexible working measures. In the UAE, while 77% of executives believe that flexible work conditions will remain for the next five years at least, over three-quarters of them express concern that the prevailing economic uncertainty could push back the progress on flexibility that’s been made as leaders look to bring back employees to the office.
This sentiment has already gained ground, with 44% of executives saying they plan on reducing remote and flexible working roles. There are also plans to reduce investments in financial support and professional development programs for employees (29%), as management prioritises financial preparedness over the next six months to weather economic uncertainty and save costs (51%).
This has resulted in a disconnect between company policies and employee preferences, and the difficult decisions that executives have been forced to make are taking a toll with 35% admitting to feelings of guilt over these decisions, and some going as far as experiencing imposter syndrome (36%) as their most valuable assets, their people, take a hit.
Employee commitment is crucial to getting through tough times
These decisions aren’t made lightly – with 57% of those who do not plan to cut costs saying they are holding back on making cuts to maintain workforce morale and productivity. In anticipation of challenging times globally, leaders say keeping employees motivated and engaged is among their top workforce priorities over the next six months. As a short-term remedy, some employers have sought to alleviate financial pressures on their employees by granting incentives through subsidised commuting costs (46%), or by offering direct financial wellbeing assistance (38%) to address the rising living costs.
Additionally, UAE executives say that they will prioritise workplace mobility such as giving employees opportunities to move into different roles within the organisation (41%) - as opposed to a global average of 34%. Employees who make an internal move are more likely to stay at their organisation longer than those who stay in the same role.
Leading for the times
As companies navigate uncertainty, one area of agreement is clear - communication is critical. It’s the top soft skill leaders identified as necessary to get through this time, followed by creative thinking, problem-solving, and empathy. In fact, the soft skills of problem-solving, communication, and strategy were featured in 78% of jobs posted globally on LinkedIn over the last three months.
60% of UAE business leaders believe a democratic management style to be key to increasing the motivation level of employees; a rather progressive approach compared to other key markets around the world. Thus, rather than making decisions at the top level before cascading them down to employees, leaders need to build bridges with their employees and include them in their decision-making journey.
Ali Matar, Head of LinkedIn MENA and Venture Markets, said: “As we have seen in the last couple of years, flexible working and learning and development have become important elements in ensuring business resilience. These policies are essential to building diverse and robust teams that can adapt to a fast-changing world.
He added: “While difficult decisions undoubtedly have to be made - it’s important to remember that people are a company’s most valuable asset, and protecting their wellbeing is vital to getting through this time. Employers that invest in their people during these times will be the ones that come out stronger.”
More than half of the surveyed c-suite leaders believe it is currently more difficult to adopt a long-term approach to their workforce planning, however they identified key areas that they plan to implement to increase resilience in their workforce: Gradually introduce more opportunities for employees to develop their skills (51%), open up communication channels for improvement (46%) and for collaboration (43%), and encourage mental health & wellbeing (44%).
LinkedIn also advises leaders to:
Take an adaptive leadership approach - Leaders must be transparent about the current reality and adapt to what lies ahead, whilst providing employees with clarity on short-term business priorities. They should see this period as an opportunity to iterate and adjust, which will stand them in good stead when the cycle ends.
Maintain workforce connection and trust - Today, just 43% of employers encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst employees. By helping employees to build connections with their colleagues, employers can energise their teams and strengthen their company culture. Furthermore, returning to command and control styles of leadership and dictating that employees must be in the office will quickly erode trust.
Focus on skills - The skill sets needed for jobs has changed by around 25% since 2015 and this number is expected to double by 2027. By understanding the skills your employees have today, and the skills your company needs in the future, companies can hire or redeploy talent into growth areas.
LinkedIn has published its Global Talent Trends report which provides leaders with insight into how labour market trends are affecting employees and workplaces.