50% UAE employees plan job switch in pursuit of better salary: Survey

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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According to a recent survey by global recruiting firm Hays, half of all employees in the UAE plan to shift to a new job within the next 12 months, with salary being the number one reason to switch jobs.

This comes after a chaotic 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the hiring market hard and many employers were forced to make redundancies and freeze staffing budgets in order to minimize costs and remain operational.

Respondents said job security and flexible working options, such as remote working, are key factors if they decided to stay with their current employer, while 45 percent expect their salaries to increase this year, the study found.

“As ever, when it comes to salaries, it has been a mixed picture for professionals in the region. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and associated movement restrictions enforced in our personal lives, it may be easy to assume that we were all similarly impacted in our professional lives but, as our survey shows, this is just not the case,” Chris Greaves, managing director of Hays Gulf region, said.

While 33 percent of UAE employees’ salaries increased by about 5 percent in 2020, 14 percent of professionals’ pay decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey said. Across the Gulf, 48 percent of employees said their salaries remained unchanged in 2020, 34 percent said pay increased compared with 2019 and 18 percent said it decreased.

Among those who took a pay cut, the majority said it was in direct response to the pandemic, but their salaries were restored to pre-COVID-19 levels by the end of last year.

Variations in salary

The recruiter expects the majority of salaries to remain unchanged in 2021 and increases to be paid to only those hitting required performance targets.

This is echoed by employees across the Gulf, with 50 percent expecting their salary to remain the same in 2021, while 46 per cent say their pay will increase and 4 per cent expect a decrease.

In terms of other benefits, fewer organizations are offering education allowances to those starting new jobs in the region than in previous years, the report found. Organizations are trying to save on costs by paying education allowances only to senior professionals. Remote hiring has also emerged as a popular means to on-board new talent, as travel restrictions in response to COVID-19 made relocating new employees from their home countries difficult.

The report also found that IT and technology professionals received the biggest pay increases in 2020, while those in office support and administration roles had the lowest.

“Demand and salaries for tech professionals have been relatively high as the need for automation is more crucial than ever in enabling organizations to remain competitive in their respective markets,” Mr Greaves said.

“Employers are willing to pay high salaries for the top tech talent to ensure they are set up as efficiently as possible for business going forward. In contrast, demand and salaries for office support and administrative roles have decreased as the pandemic forced the closure of many offices during lockdown and this, along with the shift to more home and remote working, has made many of these roles redundant.”

Skills in demand

The recruiter said the most in-demand professionals in the market include IT specialists with digital technology and data-driven skill sets. Meanwhile, 70 percent of UAE employers anticipate a skills shortage this year, with managerial/leadership skills expected to be scarce.

Telecoms, pharmaceuticals and life sciences, and banking and financial services were the three most robust industries in 2020, with only 6 percent of employees in these sectors experiencing a pay cut. In contrast, the four sectors with the highest level of salary reductions were aviation, hospitality and tourism, engineering and property.

However, Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, with the construction sector seeing robust hiring. This is attributed to the government’s drive to diversify the economy under its Vision 2030 program.

Meanwhile, 49 percent of all UAE employers said they expect staffing levels in their company to increase in 2021 because of an improvement in market conditions.
Eighty percent of employers across the Gulf said their company was already in either recovery, business as usual, or a growth phase, and 64 percent of them said they plan to hire additional staff this year.

“Business activity picked up across all sectors towards the end of 2020 and we believe this momentum will continue over the coming months,” Mr. Greaves added.