Oliver El Obeid, Head of HR at Havas Middle East, explains how the group strives to protect its teams’ well-being and why the role of HR matters now more than ever.
After a tough 2020, things have been going swimmingly at Havas Middle East, whose new business activity was, according to its Head of HR Oliver El Obeid, at an all-time high in 2021 across all disciplines – creative, media, and PR – not to mention an ever-growing collection of international accolades for its work.
In order to cater to these new wins and growing business, Havas has been actively recruiting all year long throughout 2021 and 2022, with no Great Resignation in sight. This appears to be mostly due to the group’s large array of policies specifically designed to recruit and, most importantly, retain staff. “I agree that our industry has been affected by a notable turnover, especially at agencies that did not put in place a strategy to tackle the burnout and work-life balance – or, as I like to call it, life-work balance – issues which already existed and were amplified by the pandemic,” says Obeid.
Finding and keeping talent
There are a number of criteria – some old as time, like the salary amount, and others more circumstantial, like flexibility – that job-seekers are now considering before joining an agency or leaving their current employment. As Obeid, explains, “With the current inflation and cost of living, compensation plays a big role in switching jobs. Also, employees are prioritizing work-life balance and a flexible environment as part of their decision to join or stay at an organization.”
On the financial front, it is unclear by how much salaries have increased at Havas Middle East; but Obeid says that the group is “currently reviewing some allowances to tackle the current inflation and [is] planning a salary review in 2023 aiming at supporting our talent. Not to forget that we have additional benefits such as schooling allowance and child allowance to support our staff in the different markets we operate in.”
Importantly, and although many employers are calling their teams back to the office, remote work is now a permanent benefit within Havas Middle East, while a work-from-abroad option aims to support employees going back home to spend more time with their families. “We believe flexibility and work-life balance create a happier and stronger task force, and that makes a bigger meaningful difference to brands, businesses, and people we work with,” says Obeid, who goes on to explain that “Even before the pandemic, we were starting to adopt some flexibility to address work-life balance and tackle potential burnout within our fast-paced industry; the pandemic just accelerated the implementation, and this model will remain a part of our ways of working. It is important to strike the right balance in the hybrid model to improve the well-being of your staff while maintaining company culture.”
The group also changed its working week to 4.5 days as soon as authorities announced its implementation. Says Obeid, “We believe this new initiative is in line with our plan to prioritize the well-being of our employees and improve their work-life balance. We’ve seen better results in our employee satisfaction survey, turnover rate, and productivity since adopting it – the happier you are, the better work you do.”
As a result, “We have managed to build a very solid, integrated team, and for us, the focus in 2023 will mainly be retaining those talents and optimizing the structure to cater to the business needs,” he adds.
A transforming job market
In the direct aftermath of the pandemic, the market saw an increase in fixed-term and freelance contracts, both on the demand and the offer sides. Obeid confirms that many agencies are increasingly resorting to freelancers who are now more available and have great skill sets but aren’t interested in full-time jobs. Yet, for Havas Middle East, “despite this being a temporary beneficial solution in certain cases, the priority remains to hire permanent employees who can be part of our Havas Village, live the culture, and grow with us,” he adds.
In terms of categories of roles, the advertising and marketing industry is more than ever focused on its digital transformation, with much of the recruitment happening in the digital and tech specialties. “For us, e-commerce is a business that is growing massively in the region, and we have been heavily focused on hiring performance marketers and digital specialists,” says Obeid.
Not that job seekers are solely interested in such roles. The youth, for example, has different priorities. “It’s interesting to see the new generation joining the corporate world. We are receiving many applications from fresh grads looking for jobs where they can be creative, make a difference, and have fun. They are mainly interested in content creation, social media, PR, and events,” explains Obeid. This is particularly true for Emirati and Saudi talent, whom private companies are encouraged to hire by the recent labor law changes and reforms. “The recent update encouraging private companies to hire more UAE nationals in 2023 is fantastic and is exactly what our industry needs – young local talent. Same for KSA where we are seeing more Saudis joining our industry; they are creative, strong in content, and keen on making a difference,” he says.
HR of tomorrow
This all means that the job of recruiters and HR experts in advertising agencies is not what it used to be, whether in terms of scope or in terms of importance.
As Obeid explains, “In an industry that is all about people, a strong HR team is crucial to support the business in its success – even more during disruption. We had to adapt to a crisis that was new to the world. It directly affected the people, their health, job security, and mental health. I truly think the HR role is now more important than ever as employees are mainly looking for a good culture, a fair work-life balance, and a clear career path, and all those are driven by HR.”
What’s more, the HR role steps out of the backstage and into the spotlight as the first line of contact in a competitive environment where the pool of talent is informed, aware, and demanding. “HR professionals should learn more marketing skills, including using social networks, to expand the recruitment process and boost companies’ employer image. Employer branding is key as competition for talent grows fiercer. The new generation is keen on joining companies that have a good reputation, strong visibility, a solid CSR agenda, and are active on social platforms,” says Obeid.
Lastly, DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) will be one of the most important trends to pay attention to in the recruiting industry. As Obeid explains, “Everyone wants to work in diverse and inclusive workplaces, so if employers can show they are committed to diversity, that will definitely attract talent. We will see more companies hiring professionals dedicated to this matter as they look to increase innovation and creativity with a talent pool from different backgrounds and experiences. At Havas, we have been quite inclusive, with diverse teams across the board – way before DEI became a ‘trend.’ We currently have staff from over 32 nationalities and are proud that 55% of our workforce is composed of women, in line with our #HavasAllIn global initiative. We are lucky to be in a region that consists of a melting pot with different backgrounds and valuable competencies, and that is what we build on every day.”
This article was published in Communicate's latest issue.