The United Arab Emirates (UAE) federal and local governments have continued to exemplify effective leadership in the face of the ongoing pandemic challenge during 2021. With approximately 85% of the UAE’s population fully vaccinated and widespread testing available, the nation executed a strong and coordinated response.[1] As a result, economic sentiment appears positive.

Public sector entities have demonstrated remarkable speed and agility in returning the country to ‘business as usual.’ While the economy has been bouncing back, however, companies’ day-to-day operations, including human resources (HR), have likely changed forever.

Many HR functions have experienced a sea change in how they handle the workplace social contract, adopting a “total workforce” philosophy. Where all employees were previously expected to work full time and in the office, organizations are now offering flexibility – with respect to location and in terms of engagement (part time, ‘gig’, contract).

The second global trend we have seen manifested in the UAE, is an increased focus on economic, social and governance (ESG) factors. With respect to the HR function, the “social” aspect is a priority, comprising inclusion and diversity, workplace culture and the employee experience.

Finally, as a result of Covid-19, digital transformation has gone into overdrive. From online shopping to digital banking, organizations’ basic mode of operation has fundamentally shifted, incorporating a range of technologies. As a result, we are seeing increased reliance on digital operations, as well as data-driven decision making. For the function, this means a change in the HR value proposition, as employers strive to better tailor the work environment and employee experience. Additionally, data and analytics is helping HR professionals shape the workforce of the future, identifying current skills and future gaps.

As we have seen, this crisis has presented organizations with the opportunity to transform and thrive. The “Pathfinders” interviewed in this year’s report inspire us to strive for a better connection with employees. They offer prime examples of how to drive value in the process.




    HR organizations who are focusing on integrated and mutually reinforcing capabilities such as employee experience, data and analytics, workforce shaping and digital HR and learning. Based on our 2019 and 2020 research, this cohort makes up approximately 10 percent of the sample in both years.

Our findings dive deeper in three main topics important to today’s Pathfinders:

The ‘S’ in ESG

The 'total workforce' approach

Reimagining HR for the new world of work

  • Pathfinders recognize that IDE brings tremendous value to the organization and its culture.
  • The talent pool is now more accessible and diverse, allowing for new levels of innovation.
  • Pathfinders recognize that significant change occurs when everyone in the organization acknowledges their own biases and adapts their behavior in response.
  • Pathfinders challenge existing approaches to talent management and are embracing a new 'total workforce' philosophy.
  • Tailored and personalized employee experiences help to provide great customer service.
  • Pathfinders are finding innovative and more efficient ways to identify and fill skill gaps.
  • Pathfinders experiment with new ways of working and emerging technologies to help employees adapt to disruption.
  • Continuous feedback informs decisions and creates stronger communication between leaders and the workforce.
  • Pathfinders use data to assess workforce performance and the total employee experience.

The traditional playbook is gone, and it’s time for HR leaders to chart the new way forward.



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