By The HR Observer

Held in Dubai last week, the 18th annual Compensation and Benefits Forum provided HR professionals with a platform to exchange ideas and address various issues. At the start of the forum, delegates were given the opportunity to vote for topics to be debated in 4 roundtable discussions throughout the event.

Not surprisingly, delegates chose to discuss issues surrounding the rise in cost of living and inflation, employee retention, rewards and nationalisation, and flexible benefits. Here’s a brief overview of the four roundtables’ outcomes:

Cost of Living

The rise in cost of living is a concern for everyone in the region, particularly in the GCC where the economy is in constant growth and development. While there is a general imbalance between revenues and increased costs, the increase in salaries does not correspond with the rising inflation. This is seen as a result of poor management of expectations among employees, which have significantly (perhaps unrealistically too) increased with the recent economic boom.

Some companies have been trying to implement unconventional ways of calculating inflation rates in an effort to fill the gap between salary increments and the inflation rise, based on which the salary increases would be determined. Similarly, expectations of employees can be managed through setting clear policies and maintaining open communication regarding those policies. Companies should also be aware of the growing market competition, where acquiring the right talent through attractive offers is essential to keep up with the rest of the market.

Employee Retention

The said growing market competition has been adding pressure on companies to maintain acceptable employee retention rates. In an environment where numerous organisations try to provide attractive offers to employees with key talent and potential, the right balance between compensation and benefits is crucial. Delegates discussing this topic highlighted the emphasis of improved communication between management and the rest of the staff. Mentoring and coaching as well as recognition and hiring the right talent have also been highlighted as key factors.

The cultural differences of the demographics should also be taken into consideration. For instance, the GCC region is home to a large expatriate population and maintaining high employee retention rates is largely dependent on the retention of national talent.

Rewards and Nationalisation

Nationalisation is a priority for all GCC governments. The number of qualified Nationals, especially in certain countries like UAE and Qatar where talent is scarce, is a key issue.

Other challenges such as the competition gap between the private and the public sectors – in which the latter often wins, attracting a higher percentage of national applicants – hinder the successful implementation of nationalisation in the region.

Some of the proposed solutions for such challenges included a better alignment of education and training with the market needs. Ensuring that the national workforce is qualified for the offered jobs was also seen as vital. Another possible solution to competition between private and public sector was an attempt to standardise working hours and public holidays, making the private sector jobs equally attractive.

In fact, some of these possibilities seemed to be already acknowledged and implemented by a few employers. Julia Miller, Director Compensation & Benefits at Hilton Middle East and Africa, confirmed that they have been considering a reduction in the number of working days, from 6 to 5, particularly in Saudi Arabia, in order to attract a higher number of national applicants to the hospitality industry.

Flexible Benefits

Because it is still a new concept, flexible benefits was a topic that received a lot of attention at the forum this year. “What would it take to implement it here in the region?” the delegates debated. The group presenting this topic expressed some concerns around labour law and legislations as it remains challenging for most organisations to implement flexible benefits policies.

The key issue is the lack of awareness among employees and employers alike about this new concept which still faces strong resistance from many.

A few photos from the 2014 Comp and Ben Forum

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