Is Employee’s Mental Health the Employer’s Responsibility?

Stressed Employee
This was a poll I ran on Twitter this week: As a Headhunter who often gets to speak with distressed or frustrated employees looking for change, it’s quite common to spot the tell-tale signs of stress. 
MentalHealth Survey
I find that most of the cases are due to 2 reasons:
1) lack of engagement in the workplace
2) Personal problems at home.
The problem is compounded when the affected is a local, as most often they are embarrassed to speak about the mental health issues they suffer due to fear of stigma.
A recent study led by the WHO showed that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
So, here is my question:  Is it the employer’s responsibility to take care of the employees’ mental health or not? Should this responsibility somehow extend to terminated or retired employees as well? 

What Do We Need To Become a More Innovative and Competitive Economy


While writing this article local newspapers across the country have been reporting that the UAE has been rated number one globally in 50 indices covering vital community and service sectors, this is according to the Global Competitiveness Index for the year 2017 – 2018.

The country has recently been achieving top rankings in the Arab World in areas such as Ease of Doing Business, Competitiveness, Human Development and Innovation. However, the UAE has made it clear that it has its sights at not only competing regionally but globally across various areas, and especially in the space of Innovation.

But let’s pause and think about this for a minute: “How can we expect to embrace Innovation and aim to compete globally in this space if we are too afraid to step out of our comfort zones, and we fear the unfamiliar. Innovation requires us to enable Creative, Courageous Character of Leadership.”. These were part of my views during a panel discussion in front of a group of local university students and graduates on the topic of predicting how the future would look like in the next 50-100 yrs during the National Science & Innovation Festival in Dubai.

I explained to the audience what I believed is the caliber of talent and business leaders let alone our country, but the world needs today. I had written about this back in 2011 in an article titled ‘Vitamin C for Today’s Leaders’ where I reflected on the lessons of the 2009 global downturn and the failings of some of corporate leaders who were at the helm of their organisations. In the article I prescribed that what desperately need talent that has or can deal with the 5 Cs (Hence the title Vitamin C, cheeky right?). These are:
-Talent is not afraid to step out of their COMFORT zone
-Talent that displays COURAGEOUS leadership
-Talent that is CREATIVE
-Talent that displays CHARACTER of leadership
-Talent that is CONSISTENT in its habits, practices and messaging

I found that these are the skills we need to nurture in our talent so that we enable them to be able to deal with the complex challenges the world is confronted with today, and lead the economy to become more sustainable, competitive and innovative.

Guess what happened when 140 new jobs for women were posted in Saudi Arabia

Saudi arabia female jobseekers

Can you guess what happened when the Saudi General Directorate of Passports posted 140 new vacancies for women in Saudi Arabia?

The article below further proves that enabling women to pursue their careers and enter the workforce will allow for an eager, hungrier and possibly more ambitious type of talent in the Saudi job market.

However it also poses another question that was brought up by Ahmed AbdulQader, a Blue Ocean Strategist who commented on my post on LinkedIn; he cited that the fact that so many jobseekers apply for vacancies poses a challenge to employers who will have to be able to identify the right candidate, as well as jobseekers who want to stand out when applying for jobs.

Click here to read the full article

Should We Be Optimistic About 2017?


First, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope your dreams and aspirations are fulfilled in 2017.

I won’t sugar-coat it, 2016 has been without a doubt quite a tough year. Ask a common person in the street about the year, and chances are the answer will start with a deep sigh. Corporate leaders and entrepreneurs alike seem to be entering 2017 just like a

A lot of us feel like this entering 2017

punch-drunk boxer would enter the championship round of a boxing match after being floored several times during the fight. Tired, beaten up, bruised and hopeful the round would turn their way by some lucky punch. In retrospect, the corporate community in the region has every reason to feel that way. Businesses have had to deal with challenges posed by a blend of regional and global economic and Geopolitical uncertainties. While people -or Human Capital as the HR community fondly likes to call them – were confronted with the resulting implications, such as slow creation of jobs, downsizing by some companies in the region, employers holding back salary increases and incentives, mergers, etc.

On a more encouraging note, 2016 has seen a number of growing trends in relation to the human capital practice in the gulf region that should provide reason to be optimistic of what the future holds (Yes, I confess I’m an idealist which makes me a sucker for any signs for optimism).

For example, governments as well as private sector institutions are showing strong interest in ‘enabling entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ as a necessity rather than “things that are nice to show support for” or “give lip service” to. Local university graduates and job-seekers are also demonstrating eagerness to not only become entrepreneurs, but also innovate.

A growing number of employees I have been speaking to who are un-engaged or

Many professionals in the corporate world have either taken the leap of faith or considering to

demotivated in their workplace are no longer keen to push on with their companies and instead are increasingly taking the ‘leap of faith’ and start their own ventures (also known as the refugee-effect in academic circles).

The public sector in the gulf which had earned a notorious reputation of –in a lot of instances- hiring local and expatriate “dead weight” (Yes, I said it) has become more vigilant and selective about their hiring process as well as who they keep. In fact, the public sectors in countries such as the UAE have been making significant strides in becoming as competitive, lean and innovative as the private sector and at times even more so.

There is an increasing interest in adopting technology across the human resource ecosystem and at every stage of the Human Resource journey in organisations.

Last but not least, the education sector and industry are having a more serious

There is an amazing buzz whenever you visit the Sheraa Entrepreneurship Centre in Sharjah

conversation with each other with the aim of bridging the gap between both sectors. One example of a succesful platform doing this is the Sheraa Entrepreneurship Centre which was launched in 2016 in Sharjah. (see pic inset)

What have you seen as emerging trends in the employment and Human Capital markets in 2016 which can potentially have a positive impact going forward in 2017? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Note: The following link is an interview I had with Abu Dhabi TV last week (It’s in Arabic), where I discuss some of the thoughts and Ideas I shared during the ‘Nationals in the GCC Private Sector Forum’ in Dubai. I had shed light during the forum on some of the interesting programs and solutions I offer employers to help with some of the challenges they face when adopting Nationalisation in their companies. In brief they are:

  • How we help employers identify and design their own unique Nationalisation Strategy that is long term, inclusive and has buy-in across all levels. Also how we use this to enable the Nationalisation Manager to deliver on their goals.
  • What is the ‘bottle neck’ standing in front of implementing nationalisation in organisations, and how are we addressing it (hint: It’s the Manager)
  • How are we looking to answer the age-old popular question posed by many fresh graduates: “How can I be experienced as required by employers, if NO one gives me a chance to gain experience?”

Feel free to drop me a line on LinkedIn or reach out to me on my email: if you are keen on learning more about what we do.

My interview segment starts at the 32nd minute of the video, so press forward to view it:  Click on this link


What I Learned Being Pushed Out of My Comfort Zone from a Young Age

different color goldfish jumping
different color goldfish jumping

It was 8.00 am in the morning on a sunny and warm Saturday when a white mini-van stopped next to us.  I had been waiting at the bus stop along with my younger cousin Tariq, he was 13 and I was a skinny looking 17 year old.  My golden round-rimmed glasses added to my nerdish look, while the ‘Flat-Top’ hair style I sported at the time –For those of you born in the 90s, you are forgiven for not knowing what a Flat Top was – what was my attempt to look cool, or so I believed.  The door of the van slid open, a Filipino yelled our names and we jumped in the van in a hurry.  This would be both, my-self and Tariq’s first ‘real’ job during summer break before going back to school.  It was real, because we actually got paid quite well for it.  The pay was 700 Dirhams a month.  I was anxious and excited and hardly got any sleep because it was my first summer job.

I realise that many of you had their summer jobs at a much earlier age.  I never did.  And quite frankly, I never really had to take on any summer jobs before this.  We had our parents, my father tried once to get me in a summer camp.  I relentlessly refused and argued that I would rather spend it indoors with the rest of the boys playing video games.  He yielded.  That was then.  He had passed away by the end of 1994. This was the summer of 95 and one of my uncles thought a summer job would be a good idea for me to earn some money, gain a bit of experience and most importantly keep me busy after the passing of my father.

The job was in a secluded warehouse in Dubai.  We worked from 9 am to 6 pm inside the warehouse along with a small group of talkative and charming workers from Tanzania, Philippines, India and an Arab.  We worked, joked a lot and broke bread together trying out food from Philippines (I recall the Lapu Lapu steamed fish and white rice), the Swahili beans and Chapatti and different Indian curries.  This wasn’t a buffet, each one of the workers would take turns every day to cook in the warehouse’s kitchen.  Most of the days, we would just stay hungry and skip lunch because it was too busy.

Fast forward 2 years later, here I am anxious again ahead of my first day at work.  This time more than anxious, I feel extremely uncomfortable. It had been a year since I graduated from school and my search for jobs was not bearing any fruit.  So when the opportunity for a short one month stint was offered to me, I accepted it.  The only thing was I was going to be part of a staged ‘Magic Show’ which would be followed by a daily raffle draw.  It was part of the Dubai Shopping Festival which had just been launched.  I would play the role of the ‘Magician’ and Host–Yes, that’s right a Magician- in a crowded yet small Shopping Centre somewhere in Deira Souq.  Flanked by 2 young Sri-Lankan ladies who would play the role of my assistants, my job was to entertain, host and convince as many of the audience members to take part of the raffle draw.  It took me some time to get out of my shell.  It took me a longer time to stop feeling embarrassed of the Shiny Red Waist-Coat and the ridiculous Magician Hat I wore throughout that month.  It was only a matter of time till I found myself learning to adopt an ‘alter-ego’ and fit in the role of a loud, charming and funny entertainer.  A far cry from the shy, awkward introvert I was.  For those of you laughing, I got paid a cool 150 Dirhams a day plus tips for my work.  Not bad at the time for a jobless 19 year old.

I would in the future be pushed out of my comfort zone, and thrown in the deep working as a salesman for a Timeshare company.  I learnt what it felt like pitching to customers; I learnt how it felt being rejected continuously on every evening and how it frustrated me and my best friend because our salaries would only be paid if we closed a deal.  I also learnt how growing a ‘thick-skin’ would help me look past every ‘No’ I get.  I experienced what is known as ‘camaraderie’, going through good and bad days with a team despite the fact we came from different cultures.   I also had a taste of the the rush of closing a deal, and got to understand what it took to win a customer’s trust.

When I spoke to a large group of school Principles and government education leaders this

Speaking to school Principles and educators

week in a 2 day closed event, I warned them that “the most dangerous place for our youth to get used to living, is in their comfort zones”.  I emphasized that as Educators, they should try and encourage school students to embrace the joy of exploring new experiences that would contribute towards developing their characters.  I believe it is such a momentous loss of opportunity if we allow our youth at a young age to limit their aspirations to settling for what is the norm and the standard, thus settling for a “a life less than what they are capable of living” as the late Nelson Mandela had put it.  We tend to forget that everyone we know in who has achieved amazing success our world today has done so stepping out of their comfort zones, and embracing the unknown.

There are consequences for not allowing our youth to experience stepping out of their comfort zones by protecting them or even worse stand in their way by encouraging them to “do what everyone else is and has been doing”.  For example, some of these consequences are:

  • Limits the critical ‘life-skills’ youth can learn and nurture which in turn can help build strong, confident and positive characters
  • Restricts our youth’s appetite to push the boundaries of their capabilities, and discover their true potential talent
  • Stands in the way of growing ‘resilient’ individuals
  • Most dangerous of these consequences, is that it creates a cynical, negative generation that lacks real ambition

Looking back, It’s because of these reasons and what I have personally learned working incomfort-zone1 an early age and being thrown in the deep is why me and my partners recently launched the ‘UAEtopia Talent Mine Initiative’ and have been having numerous conversations with schools, employers and other public institutions to encourage them to offer youth opportunities to rub shoulders with the real world.