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Workplace Stress

“He should be in fear for his job.”

‘He’ was a new member of the team, the instruction was from my superior. I refused, telling my boss I would not lead by fear. It wouldn’t be too long before I was out.

But I don’t regret it. While ‘he’ might never know of the exchange it was the right position to take. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t always been this way, it has taken many years and many mistakes to shape my thoughts on what a leader should or could be.

It wasn’t easy to throw away years’ worth of the ‘abused become the abuser’ hierarchical management that I’d grown up with, and then adopted. To let it go meant admitting weakness, recognising my insecurity as a boss for what it was – that is was my issue not my team’s – and understanding that pulling people down wouldn’t prop up my ego, in fact the reverse was true, lifting people up meant in some way shoring up my, at times fragile, sense of worth. Even with that conversion to a coaching mentality, it remains a constant challenge for me to examine behaviours and question outcomes, no human is a robot, we will all slip at times.

However, sadly, locally and globally, many bosses remain trapped in the prison of their own insecurity, lashing out at their employees in a vain attempt to feel in control, but as a consequence creating toxic cultures, cultures which in our view at mentl sow the seeds of companies’ ultimate demise as employees around the globe reject them.

Whether it be the Great Resignation, the Great Awakening or indeed the TikTok trend of the moment Quiet Quitting (work to rule trade unions called it in my day), it is abundantly clear that the clock is ticking on toxic cultures.

More steps towards the inevitable, at least here in the UAE, came last week with the introduction of the Green five-year visa, and then this week with the launch of unemployment insurance.

The National News‘ Patrick Ryan summed up the latest regulatory change: “Green visas are available to “skilled workers” who earn more than Dh15,000 ($4,084) a month and possess a bachelor’s degree or equivalent-level qualification.

“That will allow many teachers, medical workers and middle managers to qualify for longer-term visa status for the first time, depending on their salary.”

These are now live and accessible, and combined with the unemployment insurance begin to form a considerable safety net for talented employees.

Again for The National, Felicity Glover wrote how the UAE’s new social security support programme will pay Emiratis and residents a cash sum for three months if they lose their jobs came into effect on Tuesday, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation has said.

The Unemployment Insurance Scheme — which had been expected to begin next January — is mandatory and covers both Emirati and foreign employees in the private and public sectors, she wrote.

And, she continued, this new system provides a social security scheme that ensures the sustainability of a decent life for Emiratis and resident employees during their unemployment period and will reduce business risks, the ministry said.

Taken together these measures begin to remove the lever that poor managers often pull, the one labelled ‘keep them in fear of their job’. One unintended consequence of the UAE’s former employment visa system was that for many their continued (and much desired) existence in the Emirates is linked to their continued to employment.

As a father and a husband I’ve experienced the very real mental health pressure that brings, a desire to not rip up your life, to protect your daughter’s schooling, to not lose your health insurance, or indeed be forced to relocate away from the country many us now call home.

I recall the words of Dr. Saliha Afridi, PsyD of the The LightHouse Arabia, who wrote: “What people rarely talk about is how hard it is to speak up when you are afraid you might lose your job or when there is a seriously hierarchical culture in your company. If you were raised to not ‘speak up or speak out’, or you might actually not know what your boundaries are because you have been raised to oblige or not make waves, this becomes a seemingly impossible task.”

So how does the Green Visa help? It’s a process that began with the introduction of the Golden Visa and the UAE’s evolution of its immigration rules, its goal to attract and empower talent from around globe to ensure shared success. Now, that vision has been extended to hundreds of thousands of ‘skilled workers’ who now have the choice to sponsor themselves.

This is significant because it removes that underlying tension of ‘no employment visa, no right to stay.’ That whip used by lazy leaders, the rule of fear, is suddenly much smaller in size, which means that talent can be more secure, talent can speak out and talent can remain and seek out other opportunities in a land of opportunity. This might not immediately resolve financial concerns of meeting the day to day expenses, but once 2023’s planned unemployment insurance comes in, suddenly hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of employees are suddenly in a much stronger position to reject toxic cultures.

It’s the latest evidence of the UAE’s leadership innovating the employment culture in the nation, its public sector is already leading the way in with the adoption of the 4.5 working day week.

All this should put the private sector on notice, companies who let their leaderships continue toxic behaviours are failing, both themselves and their futures. They are zombie companies, as I’ve written before, shuffling to their own demise.

The UAE is a land of innovation, this includes the future of work. The private sector needs to embrace the future or be consigned to the past.

Author: Scott Armstrong, founder of mentl