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How Leaders Can Address UAE's Costly Quiet Quitting Problem

How Leaders Can Address UAE's Costly Quiet Quitting Problem

by Farrah Al Qassimi

Story Highlights

  • A majority of UAE employees are not engaged at work
  • Leaders can boost engagement through culture and development
  • Variance in team engagement is determined almost solely by the manager

Organizational leaders have made efforts over the past two years in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that appear to have made a positive impact on employee engagement. Despite COVID-19’s economic and social disruption, organizations in the UAE made meaningful progress toward strengthening their workplaces.

According to Gallup’s 2022 study, Key Workplace Trends in the UAE, the percentage of UAE employees who are engaged increased substantially from 19% in 2019 to 30% in 2022. This increase marks further progress since Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report came out, when the UAE was already setting the regional pace for workplace engagement, with 25% of the country’s workforce engaged (an average of engagement from 2019-2021) -- highest in the MENA region.

Accompanying this upsurge in engagement, more than half of UAE employees in 2022 (56%) said they are “extremely satisfied” with their place of employment, up from 41% in 2019.


Notwithstanding the significant improvement in employees’ engagement and overall satisfaction with their employer, the "quiet quitting" phenomenon stubbornly persists both globally and in the UAE. Gallup’s study reveals that 62% of UAE employees are not engaged (i.e., have “quietly quit”) -- these employees are not motivated and tend to fulfill the basic requirements of their job description but nothing more.

Improving engagement is certainly worthy of UAE leaders’ attention: Gallup estimates actively disengaged employees -- comprising 8% of the workforce -- cost the UAE economy between $8.6 and $10.3 billion annually due to lost productivity.

Despite the boost in engagement and overall satisfaction, employee loyalty has increased only slightly. The share of UAE employees who strongly agree that they plan to be with their current employer in one year rose to 55% in 2022, up marginally from 51% in 2019. However, this figure increases dramatically among engaged employees, 81% of whom strongly agree that they plan to be with their current employer in one year, compared with only 19% of actively disengaged employees who say the same.


Further, while 46% of actively disengaged employees in the UAE report they are actively seeking a new job, only 13% of engaged employees say the same -- a sure sign for UAE leaders that increasing the number of engaged employees is valuable and vitally important.

While the relative stability in loyalty is good news for the many UAE employers faced with talent retention and recruitment challenges, it may be short-lived: The job market is looking more attractive to UAE employees than it has in years. In a 2021 Gallup World Poll study, 60% of UAE employees said that now is a “good time” to look for a new job, compared with 49% in 2019.

UAE leaders need to capitalize on engagement momentum.

This is no time for UAE leaders to rest on their laurels. Despite the significant progress on increasing the percentage of engaged employees, 62% of UAE employees remain not engaged. Urgent action to convert these to engaged employees is even more vital in light of global and regional economic uncertainties, workforce-related challenges with remote and hybrid working, increased demands for upskilling and reskilling, and fierce competition for talent.

Now is the time to build on the momentum UAE leaders have achieved by redoubling efforts to unleash the untapped potential of well over half of the country’s workforce. By accelerating the transformation of their workplace culture to boost engagement further, UAE leaders can achieve their retention and performance goals.

Here are three actions that UAE leaders can take to accelerate employee engagement progress:

1. Align employer brand and employee experience.

It is more important than ever for organizations to offer a differentiated employer brand and employee value proposition. This may comprise tangible elements such as flexible work arrangements, employee wellbeing support and employee assistance programs or intangible ones such as an inspiring mission and a positive, caring work environment. A compelling employer brand promise serves to attract the right talent to the organization, but it must also be reflected consistently through the employee experience -- for new hires and existing employees.

Leaders must ensure alignment between the employer brand promise and the employee experience delivered through their organization’s culture.

2. Focus on culture.

Delivering an authentic employee experience requires a workplace culture that supports this experience consistently throughout the organization. Experiences define culture, and if how employees experience their organization’s culture differs from the employer’s brand promise, engagement will suffer.

UAE leaders need to understand the current state of their organization’s culture and define the desired future state that will propel engagement and ensure alignment between the employee experience and the employer brand. This requires quantitative and qualitative metrics to measure employee engagement and reveal positive and negative perceptions of the organization’s culture and employee experience. Such metrics will help leaders identify targeted actions, indicate where and how they should be implemented, and track progress toward engagement and alignment goals.


3. Support manager and employee development.

Providing all employees with rich opportunities for growth and development is another paramount best practice for UAE leaders. If employees can no longer see a future at their organization, they may either “quietly quit” or seek success elsewhere.

Gallup’s 2022 UAE study reveals ways to improve engagement, starting with managers and the support they provide to their teams. Nearly half of UAE employees (47%) do not strongly agree that they receive adequate support from their manager. By training managers to have engaging coaching conversations with their team members, UAE leaders can propel engagement, reduce quiet quitting and improve performance.

UAE organizations have made strides in offering development opportunities to employees: Almost half of employees (48%) strongly agree they have adequate growth opportunities at their current company, compared with 32% in 2019. Further, 50% of employees strongly agree that their employer offers good training and development opportunities. UAE leaders should now take advantage of this momentum by reinforcing their development programs and expanding their coverage to a greater number of employees.


A Culture of Engagement

It is important for UAE leaders to implement a workplace strategy tailored to their organization. For example, in workplaces where employees are struggling with low levels of wellbeing, helping managers to have frequent, effective wellbeing conversations with their teams will serve to improve employee engagement. In other workplaces, employees might be lacking frequent feedback about their performance and opportunities for development.

Creating a culture of engagement isn’t easy. But it’s next to impossible when leaders lack the data on their people’s engagement needs.

Leaders of highly engaged workplaces establish a clear vision for the future. Then, they continually measure and manage their culture to ensure alignment with the vision and that employees understand the organization’s purpose and what excellence looks like.

Gallup research shows that engagement is a profoundly local phenomenon -- 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined by the actions of the local manager. Leaders must ensure that front-line managers are empowered and supported to make the connection between the future vision and what this means for their team.

Through an even stronger focus on culture, UAE leaders can unlock greater levels of performance, improve talent retention, and stimulate greater creativity and innovation.

Create a thriving workplace built on research-backed data.


Farrah Al Qassimi is a Partner at Gallup, GCC.

James Rapinac contributed to this article.

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