Jennifer Hamdan, Chief People Officer MENA at Memac Ogilvy, explains how the network focuses on listening to and rewarding fairly its employees.
Has the optimism that was prevailing in business circles in 2021 materialized so far in 2022 for Memac Ogilvy and has this translated into a headcount increase?
Yes, to a certain extent. Across MENA, we have seen business returning to pre-Covid levels, with signals of a healthy pipeline in some of our key markets, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Thankfully, momentum is building in what is still quite a challenging business environment. Recruitment started to ramp up last year, as we strengthened our teams in markets like Lebanon and Jordan and built our capabilities in areas such as digital, social, consulting, and project management. Our headcount has increased slightly this year and we expect this to remain stable as we move into 2023.
Did you experience the Great Resignation predicted in 2020?
Whilst the ‘Great Resignation’ created havoc around the globe and in certain industries (i.e. tech), this has not been our experience at Memac Ogilvy, nor do we see this as a major concern for our industry (here). Rather, we are seeing a natural churn that’s currently no higher than usual. This could be reflective of the high expatriate nature of our workforce; it’s not as easy here to simply up and leave without a new prospect (social security does not exist for this population) and can also be attributed to employees becoming more discerning and asking more of their current employers. There is no doubt about it – people are reevaluating their current roles more often with many looking for more impact and meaning. Knowing this, we strengthened our listening culture over the past two years so we can truly hear and act on feedback in a timely and meaningful manner.
For those who leave, what are the main drivers behind this decision?
People are hungry for job progression and career growth at a faster pace than ever before. We attract extremely ambitious and capable people that join us with a growth mindset – they not only wish to see rapid growth for our clients and business, but also for themselves. While we try to meet that ask, it’s not always possible and expectations between the agency and employees sometimes don’t match. It’s why we strongly advocate regular ‘Career Conversations’ for our people, so managers are always in tune with what drives their direct reports. These allow us to initiate mutual development plans that help our people flourish and build great careers with us.
Have you increased salaries in 2022?
We continue to operate a ‘Total Reward’ model that rewards our people fairly and equitably, according to industry benchmarks. Salaries have [increased] in line with inflation and are competitive with the market. This will continue in 2023.
We regularly use benchmark data from Mercer to ensure we are offering candidates competitive salaries that, as mentioned before, are fair and equitable. Some recent enhancements include a lower basic with a variable pay factor tied to agreed KPIs for roles that have a large business development component. We pay at a median market level and find people are not only motivated by pay but by the prospect of working with the best, cultivating the best work, and working with world-class clients.
How do you support your staff when inflation is rampant?
Our people are our strongest asset for growth, and their well-being and satisfaction are our top priorities. We always look at ways, within our business context and reality, to support them. One such example is currently in Qatar where inflation has risen to higher levels due to the FIFA World Cup. Our solution is to allow people to work remotely for the duration of the World Cup in order to cut down on transport and other related expenses.
About remote/flexible work, have you maintained that option in 2022, and do you plan to continue in 2023?
We pride ourselves on how quickly and seamlessly we moved the agency to remote working back in March 2020, and have practiced flexible working ever since. We have a significant local agency footprint, with 12 locations across the Middle East, and are operating a hybrid 3:2 working model (three days in the office and two at home) in most of those. We also permit remote working in home countries from time to time, according to WPP mobility guidelines. In this new agile working era, this is both appreciated and welcomed by our people, and a magnet for attracting good talent.
Having said that, collaboration is at the heart of what we do, and we don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face interaction. To this end, we have set two mandatory days in the office in the UAE (Tuesday and Thursday) with the third office day at the employee’s discretion. We then create ‘meaningful moments’ so people see the benefit of coming to the office and mixing with their colleagues. This hybrid working model undoubtedly has a positive impact on recruitment and retention.
2021 saw an increase in fixed-term contracts and freelance offers. Has this been the case in 2022 for you?
An interesting question, and the answer is yes. The nature of our business is transforming and where before we used to have fewer larger retained clients, the market is shifting to more project-based assignments, which does present us with a unique set of challenges. One of those is how we adequately resource for clients. The answer has been to work to a more agile model, where we draft in freelancers on a shorter-term basis. We have a suite of excellent third-party partners that are well known to us and from whom we can guarantee the quality of work. This is a win-win as many people are choosing freelance work over signing a full-time contract with one employer as they strive for more independence and flexibility.
How have the new labor laws in the UAE and KSA impacted the way you approach employment?
We have welcomed the new labor laws in the UAE, which address some important areas for employees and employers alike. We have a very diverse workforce and attracting and retaining women has always been important. Our mission is to appoint more women to senior positions. In Saudi, we have a strong female presence, particularly in leadership, and they, as well as others, have been supported by the Ogilvy worldwide 30 for 30 Female Leadership Training Program that nourishes and grows future female leaders.
How has the new, longer weekend in the UAE impacted your workforce and their performance?
At Ogilvy, we have shifted to a Monday-Friday workweek, with Friday being a work-from-home day and flexibility offered to those who need it. We have not seen any negative impact on our workforce or performance as people are trusted to perform their duties within the workweek and often go over and above.
How has the role of HR teams been transformed by the recent crisis?
Our People/HR team came together to become more cohesive, responsive, and empathetic during Covid and were certainly put to the task during this challenging time. We reskilled the team, made some necessary personnel changes, and brought in an experienced People Director. We continue to put people’s health and well-being as a priority and play a pivotal role in building a caring, fun, and collaborative culture, where people feel a strong sense of belonging, acceptance, and pride.
What innovations do you see in our industry in hiring, retention, employee development, and remuneration/reward systems?
I see a need for HR departments in agencies to become as innovative, creative, and daring as our creative counterparts – to think and act differently in this post-Covid world and to continually find unique ways to attract, retain, develop, and reward our people. Recent evidence of this is the launch of the Eddie Moutran Award (named after our late founder) that recognizes outstanding talent within the agency – from both an entrepreneurial and creative perspective. Our People/HR team was also proud to work hand-in-hand with the Taa Marbouta program. Crafted by our PR division, it is the first open-to-all, women-to-women mentorship program in MENA for PR professionals (in partnership with PRCA). And this past Ramadan, the Creative and People team partnered to bring ‘What’s Cooking at Ogilvy?’ – a regional initiative that saw our MENA offices cook up a storm for well-deserving causes across the network.
What other trends are you identifying in HR for 2023?
The first is HR digital transformation, a hot topic today, and this is a space that WPP is pioneering with the introduction of Workday and other programs that will not only increase the efficiency and effectiveness of HR teams across the entire network but help employees mobilize and build their WPP careers easier with the deployment of a dynamic global mobility platform.
Secondly, I see the opportunity for better and more frequent internal communications – there is a strong need for people to feel more connected and part of something bigger, particularly when remote working. People crave more transparency about the business and have a desire to be better and more regularly informed.
Finally, employee overall well-being and mental health have taken on new importance since Covid, and more and more companies are pushing this further up the agenda. This is not just a HR workstream but a shared responsibility of company leadership to improve workplace wellness and build a genuine culture of health.
This article was published in Communicate's latest issue.