The Strategy That Organization Use to Impact Happiness and Well-Being on the Performance of Organization – Semi-Government Sector in the UAE
The Strategy That Organizations Use to Impact Happiness and Well-Being on the Performance of Organization – Semi-Government Sector in the UAE
Background of the Study
Countries and companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of happiness and wellbeing as a more holistic indicator of development compared to economic indicators. Gross domestic product (GDP) is gradually losing its appeal as a measure of development, with the Gross National Happiness (GNH) gaining popularity for its holistic approach (Musikanski, 2014). With the United Nations developing the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to motivate the fair and equal distribution of national prosperity, happiness and wellbeing are seen as a desirable outcome of these goals. To this end, governments are developing policies to enhance the happiness and wellbeing of their citizenry. The United Arab Emirates is championing this parading shift by allowing the pursuance of the happiness and wellbeing of the emirate to influence decision-making and policy in the country. In 2016, it appointed a minister of state for happiness and wellbeing to steer the journey towards a happier emirate society. The National Happiness and Positivity Program was launched shortly after. Similarly, companies have taken the government’s cue and are prioritizing happiness and wellness among their employees to enhance productivity and organizational performance. Firms realize that happy employees are valuable assets to the organizations in this globalization era of high labor mobility, talent competitiveness and self-efficacy.
Statement of the Problem
Happiness and wellbeing is a poorly understood concept in organizational circles. Organizations are aware that employees need to be satisfied to be productive. Therefore, many companies seek to satisfy their employees using monetary rewards, hoping that they will become more dedicated to the organizations. While money can buy some happiness, the contemporary workers are seeking for more than monetary rewards to feel satisfied with their jobs and life (Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2014). These changing employee demands have seen companies introduce innovative programs such as flexible work schedules, paternity leaves, and the work-life and work-family balance initiatives, among many others. However, few companies have happiness and wellness policies even though they proclaim to satisfy their employees. Moreover, happiness in a multicultural work environment is poorly understood and challenges many organizations globally. The United Arab Emirates has a multicultural society where many expatriates are working in the country as it pursues its emiratisation program in government institutions and companies. However, despite having a well-spelled out happiness and wellness agenda, it is not clear how this has been adopted by organizations in the country, particularly those affiliated with the government. In any case, government policies may be readily adopted by governmental agencies but less effectively by companies in the semi-government sector because private ownership segment influences them. Moreover, the happiness and wellbeing policies, programs and initiatives in semi-government organizations in the United Arab Emirates have not been studied much. Therefore, their happiness and wellbeing strategies are not understood.
Research Aim, Question and Objectives
This study aimed at identifying and understanding the strategies of happiness and wellbeing that organizations use to enhance their performance. The research question was what happiness and wellbeing strategy do semi-government organizations in the United Arab Emirates use to enhancing their corporate performance? Therefore the objectives of this study were:
- To identify the happiness and wellness strategy of Du Telecom (EITC) and compare it with that of the United Arab Emirates.
- To develop a new happiness and wellbeing strategy for semi-government organizations in the United Arab Emirates.
Purpose and Significance of the study
The purpose of this study is to use employee perceptions to device a new strategy that can be used in organizations in the semi-government sector. Employees understand best what they seek in employment and what organizations should do to enhance their happiness and wellbeing. Therefore, their insights are useful for strategic planning in firms. The significance of the study premised on the need to translate national policies about happiness and wellbeing to organizations affiliated to the government if they are to enjoy improved performance. A new happiness and wellbeing strategy in semi-government organizations may help infuse government policies into organizations that employ vast numbers of Emirati citizens.
Happiness and Wellbeing
Happiness is a relative term that has numerous definitions. Various definitions found in the literature associate happiness with life satisfaction and subjective wellbeing (Tiefenbach & Kohlbacher, 2013). Often, happiness, wellness and life satisfaction are used interchangeably. For instance, happiness is conceived as the favorable judgment of the overall quality of life by an individual (Cullen & Calitz, 2018). Sundriyal and Kumar (2014) discussed the concepts of happiness and wellness extensively. They described happiness as an emotional or mental state of wellbeing associated with emotions ranging from contentment to extreme bliss. They also revealed that happiness and wellbeing were anchored in three interrelated elements; structural or physical health, mental or psychological health, and social health (Sundriyal & Kumar, 2014). Moreover, they used the tension-reduction theory to explain that happiness was a product of the fulfillment of goals and the meeting of needs. Therefore, happiness and wellness could be arranged hierarchically like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, starting with physical wellbeing, followed by psychological wellbeing, social wellbeing, total wellbeing and finally, happiness at the top (Sundriyal & Kumar, 2014). However, Musikanski, L. (2014) observes that culture influences the definition of happiness. Specifically, happiness is considered to be a state of being by oriental cultures like the Chinese, while western cultures contextualize happiness as an achievement or a goal (Musikanski, 2014).
Despite being studied extensively over time and even featuring in the American constitution as an unalienable right, happiness challenges society because it is unclear whether the government should facilitate its pursuit among people. As such, the link between the happiness of people and the objectives of the government is ambiguous (Sgroi et al., 2017). While economic development has denoted human progress since the end of the second worked war, it is being replaced by happiness indicators. Happiness is considered a more holistic measure of development compared to economic metrics because it can deliver benefits that cannot be achieved by wealth alone (The Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing, 2019). As such, governments and companies were giving more attention of happiness and wellbeing because economic growth was not sufficient to deliver happiness, happiness and wellbeing can be studied and measures, and societal wellbeing can be improved using innovative and effective public policies (The Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing, 2019). Moreover, unchecked economic growth threatened the survival of humanity and even bought about new forms of unhappiness caused by the significant inequalities in the distribution of the world’s wealth, compulsive shopping, gambling, and consumption of fast foods, and addiction to substances and the internet, among others (The Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing, 2019). The growing importance of happiness and wellness as an indicator of social progress is exhibited by the measurement and comparison of the levels of happiness in different countries published annually in the World Happiness Report by the United Nations (Sgroi et al., 2017). Moreover, happiness and wellbeing are considered as sustainable goals for human progress such that they underpinned the sustainable development Goals by the United Nations (The Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing, 2019). The gross national happiness (GNH) has been proposed as an alternative to the gross domestic product (GDP) (Musikanski, 2014). Governments were increasingly using measures of happiness and wellness to inform their policies after realizing that they improved public policy by redirecting resources to areas most impactful to people and that the state was responsible for the survival and wellness of the current and future generations (Musikanski, 2014).
Emirati Government’s Happiness and Wellness Strategy
According to The Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing (2019), the pursuit of happiness should not be left to market forces or individuals but rather be taken up by governments and companies. Therefore, governments were using happiness and wellbeing measures to formulate public policy as they increasingly recognized their duty to enhance happiness among the citizenry (Khaisgi, 2016). The UAE government is championing happiness and wellness in the country and region by having a dedicated ministry. The Ministry of Happiness is headed by the minister of state for happiness and wellbeing who is tasked with formulating plans, policies and programs for achieving a happier Emirati society (National Program for Happiness and Positivity, 2018). This advances the vision of the founding fathers of the United Arab Emirates of making all Emiratis happy and the country’s leadership of making UAE one of the happiest nations in the world (National Program for Happiness and Positivity (2018).
The UAE’s government strategy for happiness and wellness includes raising awareness among the citizens, training of a core team of Emiratis to champion the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing, using technology to drive innovation, and developing a comprehensive national agenda that underpins various social policies (Shamsi et al., 2018). Notably, the national happiness and wellbeing agenda in the UAE is articulate in the 2021 vision that relates happiness and smart government and the national program for happiness and positivity and driven by the Global Coalition for Happiness and Wellbeing, the Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing and the Ministry of Happiness in the country (National Program for Happiness and Positivity, 2018; Shamsi et al., 2018; The Global Council for Happiness and Wellbeing, 2019). Notably, the National Program for Happiness and Positivity (2018) has issued guidelines for advancing happiness and wellbeing in workplaces for use by human resource professionals and the chief happiness and positivity officers in the country. In recognition that a positive organizational culture is required to nurture happiness and wellbeing at the workplace, the framework in this program is founded on the happy and positive individual and institution and grounded on the pillars of instilling purpose, promoting health, building relationships and fulfilling potential (National Program for Happiness and Positivity, 2018).
Happiness and Wellness Strategy of Du Telecom (EITC)
The strategic vision of Du Telecon (EITC) is to enhance digitization and champion the ‘government in 2021’ vision by the Emirati government (Telecom Review, 2018). Moreover, the company is an enabler of other government strategies such as the UAE Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031 (Microsoft News Center, 2018). Making staff and the community happier is one of the sustainability pillars of Du Telecon (EITC) (EITC, 2019). The company is a partner in the Smart City initiative by offering communication solutions to the UAE government and residents, thus contributing to the happiness and wellbeing. Moreover, it launched the Idea Hub to facilitate innovations and help position the country as a happy living location (Cherrayil, 2018). Therefore, the SDGs pursued by the company include the decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, and sustainable cities and communities (EITC, 2019). Moreover, the company promotes the happiness of communities through education and raising awareness, volunteering, emiratization, and youth empowerment. Internally, the company contributes to the happiness of its employees by prioritizing employee wellness through promoting mental and physical wellbeing, and enhancing employee engagement by creating a favorable workplace culture. Notably, the company uses employee surveys regularly to improve its recognition and rewards incentive schemes, systems and processes, alongside training its employees regularly (EITC, 2019). The monetary rewards to employees include airfare, telecom discounts and education allowances. Also, the company facilitates a positive work-life balance by providing clinics, a pool and a gym in-house together with flexible timings. For these reasons, the company has been awarded the Gallup Great workplace for five consecutive years (EITC, 2019). However, the remuneration system follows the pay-for-performance framework (EITC, 2019).
Qualitative research was used because of its ability to provide a holistic perspective on the organizational phenomenon. It does so by interrogating the relationships within a system and enhancing the understanding of a given social setting (Silverman, 2016). In this study, happiness and wellbeing are the phenomena in focus, while the semi-government sector in the United Arab Emirates is the social setting. A descriptive and explanatory study using the interpretivist approach was preferred to explain the different strategies that organizations use to enhance happiness and wellbeing in their workplaces, considering that that knowledge depends on cultural location and time (Silverman, 2016). A case study of the Du Telecom (EITC) in the UAE was chosen because it would provide an in-depth understanding of the happiness and wellness phenomenon in the context of the semi-government organizations in the UAE. Du Telecom (EITC) is one of the two largest telecommunications companies in the UAE, which is jointly owned by the government and the private sector.
Data Collection and Analysis
A survey was conducted to unearth the strategies organizations in the UAE used to enhance happiness and wellbeing in their workplaces as a way of enhancing their performance. Sixty respondents filled out an online questionnaire after providing their consent to participate in the study. The respondents were drawn public, private and semi-government organizations in the UAE. The questionnaire contained 13 items, to capture the demographics of the respondents and their attitudes towards the happiness and wellbeing strategies used in their organizations. The items comprised of close-ended questions, with some using a 5-point Likert scale to respond to statements. The questionnaire is given in appendix 1. Data was analyzed using a computer to generate percentages and frequencies.
Finding and Analysis
Sixty employees aged between 21 and 60 years old responded to the questionnaire. Most of the respondents were male (81.7 %) and aged between 31 and 40 years as illustrated in figures 1 and 2.
Figure 1. Gender distribution of respondents
Figure 2. Age Distribution of respondents
Eighty percent of the interviewed employees were emirates while the rest were expatriates. Most of the emirate workers were aged between 31 and 40 years, while most of the expatriates were aged between 41 and 50 years as shown in figure 3.
Figure 3. Age distribution of the UAE national and expatriate workers.
Moreover, most of these employees worked in either government organizations (48.3 %) or in semi-government organizations (50 %). Only 1.7 % of those interviewed worked in the private sector. Nonetheless, most of the respondents were educated beyond high school level. Notably, a majority of local and expatriate employees held a bachelors degree (55 %), with 23.3 % having a diploma while another 15 % had master’s degree qualifications. However, none of the employees has doctorate level education, as illustrated in figure 4.
Participants were asked about their opinion regarding the sharing of important information in the office increases workplace happiness. Over three quarters of the respondents agreed (31.7 % agreed strongly, 48.3 % agreed) that sharing important information within the office would increase happiness at the workplace. Only 8.3 % disagreed, while the remaining 11.7 % were not sure and therefore remained neutral as shown in figure 5
Figure 5. Sharing important information within the office will increase happiness at the workplace
Participants were asked whether they felt that it was the responsibility of the management of organizations to create a positive work environment. Most of the respondents (70 %) felt that it was the management’s responsibility to create a positive work environment. While a few workers felt the responsibility was not with the management, about a quarter of them remained noncommittal, as illustrated in figure 6. Notably, only the emirate workers disagreed that the management was responsible for the positive work environment, as illustrated in figure 7.
Figure 6. It is the managements responsibility to create a positive workplace
Figure 7. Distribution of perceptions about management responsibility bsed on the nationality of employees.
When asked whether they felt valued by their organizations, over half of the respondents agreed (35 % strongly agreed, 18.3 % agreed) that their organizations valued employees. While 13.3 % felt that their organizations did not value employees, a third of the responded were undecided, as illustrated in figure 8.
Figure 8. Organization values employees
The employees were asked whether they believed that the reward system in their organizations would increase the performance and happiness of employees. Most of the respondents (41.7 %) strongly agreed, while another 26.7 % agreed that the rewards systems at their organizations had a positive effect on the employee’s happiness and performance. Only 16.7 % disagreed, while 15 % of the respondents were noncommittal, as illustrated in figure 9. Notably, a majority of the UAE nationals and expatriate believed that a reward system increases employee happiness and performance, as shown in figure 10. Moreover, all employees above 50 years believed that rewards systems increase happiness and performance while a large proportion of those aged between 31 and 40 years are neutral as illustrated in figure 11.
Figure 9. Organization reward system will increase the performance and happiness of the employees.
Figure 10. Distribution of opinions about rewards systems among UAE national and expatriates
Figure 11. Age distribution of the perceptions about the influence of the reward system on performance and happiness.
Employees were told that their organizations created positive and happy workplaces for the employees. Over two-thirds of the respondents agreed (20 % strongly agreed, 45 % agreed) while only 13.3 % of them disagreed. The remaining 21.7 % remained neutral as illustrated in figure 12.
Figure 12. The organization creates a positive and happy workplace for the employees.
The participants were asked whether their organizations should focus on team building activities to improve happiness, wellbeing and performance. Almost three-quarters of the respondents (31.7 % agreed strongly, 41.7 % agreed) agreed that their organizations should focus on team activities, while only 8.3 % disagreed. The remaining 18.3 % of the respondents remained neutral, as shown in figure 13.
Figure 13. organistiona should focus on team building to improve happiness, wellbeing and performance
When asked whether the organizational environment enhanced the happiness of employees, over half of them agreed, with 26.7 % agreeing strongly and 35 % agreeing. A quarter of the respondents were noncommittal while the remaining disagreed that organizational environment enhances employee happiness, as illustrated in figure 14.
Figure 14. Organistional environment enhances the happiness of employees
Finally, when asked therefore their organizations maintained a sense of happiness at the workplace, over half of the employees agreed, with 28.3 % agreeing strongly and another 33.3 % agreeing. Almost a quarter of the participants remained neutral while the rest disagreed as illustrated in figure 15.
Figure 15. Does the organization maintain a sense of happiness at the workplace?
The Emirati were the majority participants found in government and semi-government organizations. Therefore, the information obtained from this study can be extrapolated to Du Telecom, which is a significant employer in the semi-government sector in the UAE. Besides, this means that the emiratisation program is yielding fruits as the number of the Emirati surpasses that of the expatriates in government-related organizations (EITC, 2019). This also means the government organizations are still multicultural because the Emirati work alongside expatriates who originate from different countries and therefore have diverse cultures.
However, although a majority of the participating employees felt that the management was responsible for creating a positive work environment. This is consistent with the perceptions that governments were responsible for creating happy environments and culture nationally (Cullen & Calitz, 2018). More than a quarter of the workers remained neutral or disagreed with the role of employers in facilitating happiness and wellbeing. Moreover, almost half of the employees were no sure whether the company valued them or felt unappreciated by the company. This may explain why the company experienced a high employee turnover, which places in doubt the level of job satisfaction among the employees. For instance, 152 workers left the company while 155 new employees were hired in 2018 (EITC, 2019; National Program for Happiness and Positivity, 2018).
Most employees revealed that the firm’s reward system would increase happiness and performance of employees. This means that the employees were not happy about the pay-for-performance system used in many Emirati companies such as EITC. Moreover, almost three-quarters of the employees revealed that their organizations should focus on team building to improve their happiness, wellbeing and performance. The annual report of Du Telecom indicated that revenue and profit growth was marginal, increasing from 13.0 million to 13.4 million and from 1.71 to 1.75 million Arab Emirate Dirhams (AED), respectively, between 2017 and 2018. Moreover, the number of mobile subscribers remained unchanged since 2014, and reducing from 8.65 million to 7.9 million between 2016 and 2018 (EITC, 2019). This performance was not reflective of a productive happy workforce. Chancellor and Lyubomirsky (2014) argued that money did not necessarily make people happy because happiness often preceded the procurement of riches. From another perspective, the workers may be experiencing hedonic adaption in which the initial impulses of happiness are eroded by increased aspirations and diminished pleasures (Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2014). Moreover, Musikanski (2014) argued that the culture of consumerism and materialism complicated the measurement of happiness and wellbeing, particularly in non-western societies. This may explain why the pay-for-performance was not helping UAE organizations retain employees or reduce their mobility in the labor market. Similarly, the demand for team-building is indicative of weak interpersonal relationships and that the multicultural working environment was challenging the performance of workers in the UAE. Expatriates were drawn from diverse cultures and were driven by individualistic motives to earn money when working in the UAE. Ogihara and Uchida (2014) observed that such individualism has negative effects on interpersonal relationships and happiness. While the expatriates may be accustomed to individualism, the Emiratis may not be used to the competition and high regard for personal achievement it elicits. Using the Japanese culture, Ogihara and Uchida (2014) concluded that people from East Asian cultures were unprepared and responded poorly to individualistic systems originating from the European American cultural context. Therefore, the Emirati may be aggrieved by the low interpersonal relationships and unhappiness at the workplace because they were not backed by personal values such as high self-efficacy, religious ideas and interpersonal strategies (Ogihara & Uchida, 2014).
The high proportion of respondents remaining neutral or disagreeing about their organizations creating positive and happy workplaces, the organizational environment enhanced employee happiness, and the maintenance of happiness by the organizations indicates that public firms were not doing enough to improve the happiness and wellbeing of their employees. The pursuit of happiness uses the well-developed western model of secular individualism, which contradicts the collectivistic and non-secular culture of the UAE (Lambert et al., 2015). Therefore, the cultural difference of happiness perceptions may render the happiness initiatives in the semi-government firms ineffective, considering they have a private ownership that responds to market forces.
To enhance worker happiness and wellbeing, and performance in the semi-government sector in the UAE, it is recommended that:
- The management focuses on rewarding systems that provide intangible benefits rather the pay-for-performance systems. Accommodation of the children of nursing mothers at the workplace and paternal leave for new fathers would help reduce staff turnover and enhance job satisfaction.
- The management identifies the reward systems that are culturally sensitive and valued by the employees. Variable reward systems rather than fixed ones are recommended to accommodate the diverse workforce.
Therefore, the new strategy should focus on a culturally-relevant reward system and workplace environment that not only recognizes the uniqueness of the UAE culture but also accommodates the changing attitudes and preferences of contemporary Emirati employees. The strategy should focus on educating the Emirati on some of their regressive beliefs about service jobs using culturally-relevant information. Moreover, the Emirati are a collectivistic and non-secular society requiring family-oriented workplace environment and rewards. Considering that the emirates was aspiring to be a leading knowledge and service economy in the region and the world, the Emirati should embrace service jobs and learn to derive happiness from them by changing their attitudes, beliefs and value systems.
The United Arab Emirates is renowned for its pursuit of happiness and wellbeing by the close involvement of its government. The country is the first to have a happiness and wellness ministry in the world and has ambitious programs of making the country one of the happiest in the world. Many companies in the country’s public sector have followed suit by prioritizing the happiness and wellbeing of their employees and customers. This study revealed that many employees expected their firms to spearhead happy working environments to enjoy better employee performance. Moreover, the organizational strategies were not fully aligned to the national strategy for happiness and wellness. Multiculturalism due to the large proportion of expatriates and the use of the western model based on individualism and secularism were causing semi-government organizations to experience high employee turnover and suboptimal performance. Therefore, the study evidenced the ineffectiveness of the happiness and wellbeing in UAE firms and justified the need to change strategy. To improve the happiness and wellbeing levels of workers in the semi-government sector in the UAE, it is recommended that the happiness and wellness policies and programs are culturally-relevant to the Emirati, targeting their collectivism and religiosity. Family-friendly work environments and reward systems that enhance the work-family balance of the employees are recommended.
Appendix 1. Questionnaire
Choose the answer by clicking on the response that best represents your answer
Section A: demographics
- What is your gender [ ] male [ ] female
- How old are you? [ ] 20 years and below
[ ] 21-30 years
[ ] 31-40 years
[ ] 41-50 years
[ ] 51-60 years
[ ] 60 years and over
- What is your nationality? [ ] UAE nationals [ ] Expatriates
- What is you highest education attainment? [ ] High School
[ ] Diploma
[ ] Bachelors
[ ] Masters
[ ] PhD
- In which sector do you work? [ ] Government
[ ] Semi-government
[ ] Private
Section B: perceptions
For the following statements, indicate your opinion by choosing your response
[ ] Strongly agree
[ ] Agree
[ ] Neutral
[ ] Disagree
[ ] strongly disagree
- Sharing important information within the office will increase happiness at the workplace
- The management is responsible for creating a positive work environment
- The organization values its employees
- The organizations reward system will increase the performance and happiness of thee employees
- Organizations create positive and happy workplaces for employees
- The organization should focus on team building activities to improve happiness, wellbeing and performance
- Organization environment enhances happiness of employees
- The organization maintains a sense of happiness at the workplace
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