It's about more than money say vendors

It’s becoming accepted that people and ideas are the fuel of the new economy. With the region’s businesses tackling more IT projects than ever, how are companies attracting and retaining employees here? ACN discovers the modern employee-oriented management practises are at work within companies in the region.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  March 29, 2001

Introduction|~||~||~|It’s becoming accepted that people and ideas are the fuel of the new economy. With the region’s businesses tackling more IT projects than ever, how are companies attracting and retaining employees here? ACN discovers the modern employee-oriented management practises are at work within companies in the region.

With customers, satisfaction is achieved through a good service at a good price, but — employee satisfaction goes beyond a pay cheque; flexibility, knowledge and training are of utmost importance to employers and employees in the region.

According to Addie Van Rooij, Compaq’s human resources & environment manager, Middle East, Mediterranean & Africa, encouragement, challenges and balance are essential to employees.

“We can talk about pay, which is fundamental, but creating a learning environment, giving people responsibility, ownership, education and coaching them to be successful, that is the real incentive,” explains Van Rooij.

It is a view Graham Porter, Hewlett-Packard’s marketing manager, concurs with, “training and development are important to us, everyone has a personal development plan and we encourage people to move within the organisation so they can grow their skills.”

Providing workers with challenges in the work environment is one way to keep employees motivated, but a flexible working environment is also fundamental to employee satisfaction. Employees are increasingly being given the freedom to determine their working hours as mobile offices become a reality within some of the organisations in the region.

HP’s recently opened office in Dubai Media City is equipped with mobile ‘hotdesks’ for employees to plug their laptops into. “We cover 12 countries from Dubai and our people are very mobile, so we trust them to organise their own schedules and meet customer deadlines. This can mean working weekends or odd hours and mobile working allows them to do that,” says Porter.

HP aren’t alone in providing mobile desks and flexible hours, Sun and Compaq also place trust in their employees to strike a balance in their work schedules and meet deadlines.

Sun has also integrated mobile working into their habits, setting up a mobile department containing 15 desks for about 20 people, and allowing staff to take advantage of opportunities to work from home or in the office.

“We have official hours from 8:30 to 5:30, however we allow people to manage themselves. We control the objectives an employee must reach, but not the day-to-day running,” says Regis Fournier, Sun’s human resources manager, Middle East & Africa.

Open office strategies also encourage positive and strong employee/manager relationships within companies. “Employee/management policies are fundamental to HP and an open plan office promotes equality for all, no offices and no obvious signs of status, everyone is on first name terms,” says Porter.

Compaq and Sun also encourage employee/manager interaction, but explains Van Rooij, space is also important in part of this relationship, as it instils trust. “Employees don’t want their managers checking up on them every five minutes to see if they have completed a task.”

||**||Page 2|~||~||~|With the regional IT employment market populated by expatriates, relocation packages play an important role in attracting staff to the region. Sun, HP and Compaq all provide their employees with housing and schooling allowances, and where the job dictates cars. Health insurance and annual flights home are also included in some packages, but the key incentives to all employees are stock options and the ability to travel within the job.

It’s not just the big name vendors who are adopting people policies. Omani IT company, Bahwan Cybertek, has developed its people-oriented policy with similar benefits, offering employees financial renumeration and stock options, as well as the opportunity to travel and work from the companies offices around the world. “This is one of our strengths. Since most of our people are from India, the ability to offer mobility between India, US, the Gulf and Germany helps us tremendously with employee retention,” says the company’s CEO, S Durgaprasad.

Bahwan Cybertek is clearly getting it right, the company recently topped an employee survey, coming out on top in a whole host of categories including: empowerment; rewards, recognition & performance management; leadership; communication and crucially client service and company image & competitive position.

Although the leading IT companies within the region are implementing these management strategies the message still needs to spread down the chain to the smaller companies. And as such the larger vendors are looking to educate their regional partners to begin recruiting on a local level.

“I need to go out more in the region and tell people about our practises and educate local companies about how to implement them. We also need to do that with our partners, we need to educate and retain these channel people as they are our face to the customer,” explains Van Rooij.

The channel partners, however, don’t have the financial power to implement these best management practises and offer packages similar to those of the leading vendors. Bringing employee satisfaction into the market is important, but it is also apparent that the issue of staff retention must be addressed within the IT industry as a whole.

Recruitment is one of the key areas that Sun, Compaq and HP are looking to develop in the region, as much of their recruitment strategy involves relocating people to the region. With leading vendors placing skills and knowledge at the top of their agendas for potential recruits, the drive towards IT training and skills within educational establishments must continue in the region if locals are to penetrate the IT job market.

The Internet is also proving an important source of recruitment. with both Sun and Compaq receiving CVs via their Web sites. “We have a web site where people can apply to positions we put on there; they respond in a certain form so we can easily access their CVs,” says Van Rooij. “In one month we get about 500 CVs through this medium.” Sun also profits from Internet recruitment receiving about 40 CVs a week form its site.

However, recruiting locals is still proving difficult for vendors. Sun and Compaq are looking into extending their ties with local educational institutions.

Compaq is also looking to reflect the local culture within its offices says Van Rooij. “In Saudi Arabia, we haven’t done a great job in terms of recruitment, our employees are mostly expatriates. We need to increase the level of local people and strike a balance in terms of the local market and culture.”
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