Readers say dignity and trust at work are top issues

July 9 is my one-year anniversary of writing for The National. It has been an honour and a privilege to be able to share my experience and my knowledge with the readers of the daily.

It has also been extremely rewarding to receive feedback, both supportive and critical. I will be taking a break from writing, and thought that this would be an opportune time to share some of what I have learnt.

I do not have precise statistics, but based on feedback it seems that the human resource element of business is what concerns readers the most. Probably the most important issue is being treated with dignity – and in particular various HR facets that are considered unnecessarily demeaning in their present formulations such as job interviews and performance reviews.

A close second in the HR arena is concern with the corporate culture. There seems to be a feeling that decision-making with respect to issues that have a direct impact on an employee’s career is not transparent. More directly, there is a lack of trust in the corporate culture.

It is not surprising that a soft issue such as HR might prove challenging for businesses. On the other hand, it also suggests that some small to moderate changes could pay large dividends.

The article that garnered the greatest and strongest feedback was on the proactive circumvention of the government’s Emiratisation policy by some companies. The fact that feedback unanimously ignored the main thesis of the article, which was about companies that intentionally tried to subvert the Emiratisation policy, and instead focused solely on the validity and effectiveness of the policy, points to a serious bone of contention held by employers, expat employees and Emirati employees.

Such divergent views, nearly all of which were vehement, points to a potentially festering issue for the labour markets that, if not tackled head-on, might create a toxic work culture across the economy.

Entrepreneurship comes second to HR in the feedback rankings. In many ways I feel quite optimistic that entrepreneurship ranks so highly. The various government programmes promoting and supporting entrepreneurs, as well as the UAE’s positioning as a global centre sitting at the crossroads of a redrawn global trade map, is clearly working. Now that the entrepreneurs are here and the infrastructure is built, we just have to work on getting the funding side of the equation to catch up.

On that note, third on our list is the business of credit and in particular SME lending. My personal interest in this sector has led to a larger number of articles on it, but that in no way detracts from the interest that readers have in this area. The near daily discussion, news and announcements reinforce the importance of this sector to all stakeholders in its priority within the economy.

In terms of a single article garnering fierce feedback, second to my Emiratisation article was my column on the use of security cheques by banks. Unlike the Emiratisation article which elicited a broad and varied response, the abuse by some UAE-based banks of post- dated cheques as security was overwhelmingly one-sided, with a few senior bank personnel defending the tactic and everybody else criticising it.

This is clearly an issue that needs courage to resolve. Perhaps taking a page from the Saudi ministry of commerce and industry would be useful, as it criminalised any company with a commercial licence from using cheques as security. Implementing such a commercially sensible decision would not just result in a more efficient UAE economy but one that can compete with its neighbours in attractiveness to entrepreneurs.

The last major theme that was popularly received is corporate governance. Unlike HR, which directly touches the careers of every employee, corporate governance only directly touches the board of directors and senior management.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see that these articles were being read diligently. It augurs well that senior people in the business sector are so keen to learn more about corporate governance as it indirectly, yet strongly, touches not only all employees but all stakeholders.

There is one glaring omission from this list of article topics that proved popular, and that is strategy. It would be a little disconcerting if corporate governance was important to the business community but strategy was not. Perhaps an economy dominated by government and quasi-government business is less dependent on strategy and more dependent on connections. I hope not because a stunted ability to develop strategy will severely hamper the regional and global competitiveness of UAE-based companies.

Sabah Al Binali is an active investor and entrepreneurial leader, with a track record of financing, building and growing companies in the Mena region. You can read more of his thoughts at

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