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Millennials in the Middle-East Workplace

Hosted by: JLL

The increasingly pivotal and powerful role of millennials in our ever-emerging Middle East workplace formed the focus of discussion at ChapmanCG’s Middle East & Africa roundtable event, kindly hosted by Kabira Bhatporia, MENA Head of HR at JLL. We welcomed an energised group of Regional and Functional HR leader friends from the likes of Microsoft, Boeing, Mars, Coty, GlaxoSmithKline and Colgate-Palmolive to openly share challenges and success stories in attracting and retaining first-class millennial talent. The session was chaired by Abby Walters, Middle East & Africa Director at ChapmanCG who has been based in Dubai for over 8 years.

Attracting Millennials

In this era of intense digital disruption and the pending gloom of falling behind, the race is on to find the very finest “new generation” talent. JLL shared that 60% of it’s MENA business is staffed by millennials and that the average age of its workforce is 34 years old. Add to the mix the challenge that 67% of millennial Middle East talent wishes to steer away from the corporate world and go it alone in business, and we soon understand why competition is relentlessly fiercely in this market.

We discussed the success of some elitist “HIPO” graduate programmes to which a small handful of top individuals are invited after rigorous assessment against thousands of applicants. Certainly, this aims to create a feeling of “standing out from the crowd” and can be a great platform to see future leaders springboard from. It was reported that many of the grassroots programmes command such a degree of long-term loyalty from its alumnae that even if employees are lost to competitor businesses in the medium term, many leaders saw the return of their top talent in the successive years to follow.

To intensify the expected, slick social media presence, brand ambassadors are playing a crucial part in some businesses, almost in a role as “trendsetters”. Talent is identified from leading universities well-ahead of hiring time and can be invited to join targeted Whatsapp groups where the company brand is enticingly heralded in carefully-constructed ways.

Recorded introductions taking the form of LinkedIn and YouTube interviews often form part of the early-stage talent acquisition piece and not only appeals to the tech-loving target market but can save valuable time and energy lost in face-to-face meetings with frantic business leaders, often with a heavy regional travel schedule.


Maintaining and developing Millennials:

We discussed the tendency to over-generalise the motivators of this generation talent pool which can lead to dangerously oversimplifying the group’s needs. By contrast, it was agreed that actually very different cross-trends exist in this pool of young professionals.

Our top findings were as follows:

1. Job Loyalty

Contrary to some opinion, security was actually highlighted as high on the agenda of some Middle East-based millennials. In the age of severe terrorist activity, political unrest in the region, oil price instability, and indeed, having grown-up in an era of debt, deep recessions, abolishment of pensions, many are actually in pursuit of a “job for life” and counteract the typical image of a “carefree job-hopper”. Organisations that can offer a stable working environment with clear, communicated succession plans and long-serving fellow colleagues are winning the commitment of some of this population. By contrast, many millennials are staying clear from volatile working environments with changing key stakeholders, even despite a strong financial lure in some circumstances.

2. Create a Contemporary Culture

Digital talent are looking for purpose, fun and agility. We discussed the fact that these employees tend to be curious and exploratory and don’t want to be stuck in a box. They are very much in search of “collecting experiences” rather than “things” and will want to be heard. If infrastructure and governance create a barrier to this, expect there to be a backlash. The existence of Employee Advisory groups, Women’s Forum and active CSR in some of the HR leaders’ businesses has been welcomed by the open minds of this young talent. We warmed to the story of the Colgate business spearheading a community “brushing experience” in local schools, as an example.

3. Empower learning

A culture that celebrates failure is healthy when this is turned into learning. One of the HR leaders from a major consumer house spoke of embracing the truly inquisitive and active upcoming learners in her organisation; the curious creators with a love of learning for life. Constant questioning of the status quo and an ability to move on in the face of failure is a winning combination. Leveraging e-learning and gamification opportunities is proving invaluable in many Middle East operations whereas classroom-based, traditional activity is tending to be rejected by the tech-savvy rising talent pool.

4. Explore reverse mentoring

Digital natives can feel empowered when asked to share their understanding of digital platforms, tools and techniques with more traditional and often more senior employees. We talked about the success of this twinning technique across a number of industry sectors, and indeed in some of the local, family-owned business conglomerates.

5. Work/Life interaction

Flexibility in the workplace has come to be very much expected in this region – far from being a new phenomenon, it sits incredibly high on the agenda of many millennials. The ability to work outside of the confines of structured working hours and locations brings a sense of freedom and trust to the workplace.

UAE traffic has considerably worsened and commute times have over doubled in 10 years. Corporate workers face hours lost in the bi-daily, jammed road system, stressed and drained by trying to meet the rigid start-time expectations of the office.

A loosening of this corporate schedule and “staggered starts” are warmly welcome by Dubai-based millennials. Remote collaboration is also now expected by many of the younger HR generation, to relieve the daily pain of the stationary Sheik Zayed Road.

Some leaders voiced a concern surrounding the juxtaposition between the digital 24-7 culture we have created, and the need to keep clear boundaries between work and personal time and commitments.

Final Thought

We welcome changing times here in the desert. Failing to secure the best new generation talent in Middle East means businesses may fall along the wayside on this digital transformation journey.

Digital talent inspires change in the right structures where new ways of working, leveraging technology to create and innovate and increasing speed and agility differentiates.

The challenge of attracting this talent, and keeping it fresh and on its toes is high on the agenda of every Talent leader it seems.

Abby Walters, ChapmanCG Director, commented, “This was a fascinating discussion which spurred many of our HR friends to share positive progress around the attraction and development of millennials. It’s easy to experience at first-hand the energy that this new talent can bring to our businesses here in Middle East. Not keeping up with the pace of change in our newly “digitised” region could be catastophic”.


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