Internal communication is upside down in GCC companies as almost half of the employees in the region rely on colleagues rather than their bosses for information, a survey has revealed.
The study, the Middle East Corporate – Reputation Watch 2008 – Getting the Message Across, showed 49 per cent of UAE employees believe their manager is very useful for obtaining important information, while 47 per cent rely on external media and friends for information about their job.
Managers themselves admitted the responsibility for communicating with employees is often pushed to departments such as marketing (20 per cent), human resources (45 per cent) or internal communications (18 per cent). And seven per cent of UAE managers said they did not know who is responsible for internal communications in their company, while 25 per cent thought it was not necessary for staff members to understand how their job connects to their company's business objectives.
In the survey's responses, there was a wide gap between what managers thought was being conveyed and what employees heard. While 77 per cent of UAE managers said they make a point of explaining their organisation's strategic objectives to staff, only 54 per cent of employees in the UAE felt these objectives were properly explained.
In total, almost half of all UAE employees surveyed did not feel they received the information they needed to do their job well, while a third did not feel valued for the contribution they made, according to the survey of more than 500 managers and employees in the GCC conducted by Hill & Knowlton, using YouGov Siraj.
While 95 per cent of employees said they would like to develop their skills and advance professionally in their job, only 46 per cent felt the way to do this had been properly explained to them. The net effect was over 50 per cent of employees in the GCC run the risk of not being able to engage properly with the organisation they work for.
Meanwhile, this compares negatively with findings in Europe where polls suggest only 30 per cent staff feel similarly. "The UAE findings are broadly consistent with the results in other GCC countries," Fran McElwaine, director of change and organisational communications, Hill & Knowlton Middle East, said. "They suggest, although managers in the UAE understand the importance of communicating with employees, many of them are failing to get the message across."
McElwaine said companies are under pressure to lift productivity and it is becoming harder to attract and retain top talent. "The ability to engage employees and align them with a company's strategic objectives is a key to better motivation, productivity and staff retention."
One possible explanation for the disconnect between managers and employees may be that many managers do not feel empowered to communicate or even to make decisions. Findings from the survey showed most managers in the region have been reluctant to make a decision.
About 58 per cent of managers believed making decisions would increase the chances of being blamed if something goes wrong and 31 per cent admitted to following decisions made by others without fully thinking of the consequences. Twenty-six per cent of managers said keeping a low profile at work would help ensure their position was safe.
Businesspeople who spoke to Emirates Business did not seem surprised by the results. Bassam Fino, chief commercial officer, Bonyan International Investment Group, said most managers prefer to not communicate. "The capabilities of managers to communicate in this region is below average. They believe by doing this they become more in control. Giving less information means more power for them."
And Joe Sassine, general manager at Dubai-based Shadow Professional Photography, concurred, saying staying away from staff lends more authority to the managers. "This usually happens in companies where the top people have to protect their image to keep their job as well as authority."
Overall, the findings showed there is room for improvement in the region, said Dave Robinson, CEO, Hill & Knowlton Middle East. "The findings indicate organisations in the UAE and in the Gulf can do a better job of structuring their internal communications effectively.
"There is real potential for companies across the region to improve morale and productivity by creating structures and systems for employee communication."