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The MENA Power List 2021: Living a balanced life, by TBWA\RAAD’s Reda Raad

By Reda Raad, CEO, TBWA\RAAD.

years in role: 6 | years in company: 21 | other roles: Chairman of the Syracuse University MENA Alumni Board; Chapter Chair, Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO) Emirates Chapter

As we begin to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, I’m also reflecting on whether we as an industry have wasted a perfectly good crisis. Whether we’ve collectively returned to the status quo, ignoring all the valuable lessons we should have learned. After all, we are faced with what Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, refers to as ‘The Great Resignation’. That is, an avalanche of ‘I quit’ letters, all winding their way to an HR department near you as the effects of the pandemic begin to diminish.

Microsoft says 41 per cent of the global workforce is weighing up leaving their current employers this year. Jobs site Monster.com believes that figure is more like 95 per cent. Even here in the UAE, an estimated 70 per cent of employees are reassessing their careers post Covid-19, according to global recruiter Robert Half, while stress among UAE employees is among the highest in the world (at 88 per cent), according to the 2021 Cigna 360 Wellbeing Survey. And while those aged 18 to 34 are the most willing to leave their current occupation (55 per cent), it is the 35 to 59 age bracket that has the highest rate of job insecurity (45 per cent).

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These numbers are staggering. They are also a warning to our industry. We have to understand that people really do care about living a life that’s more in balance with their beliefs. A life that enables them to feel fulfilled and to contribute to a better world. And if they feel this is being compromised, they will leave. It’s as simple as that. Because, as Rebecca Newton recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review, all many of us want to do is simply rediscover joy at work. Something that is not only vitally important to our own wellbeing, but to our performance in the workplace as well.

Successfully negotiating The Great Resignation will be one of the toughest challenges of the coming year. But it’s also an opportunity to reflect on what we stand for as an industry. In this time of great questioning, just as we are querying our own decisions, so agencies must reflect too. What meaningful or purposeful value are we offering our talent? What reason are we giving them to turn up every day?

This is our challenge. How to create a work/life balance that does what it’s supposed to do: give life back to those who enable our agencies to thrive. Because when we talk about striving for a real work/life balance, it’s got to mean more than an extended coffee break, nutrition workshops, pool tables or a 15-minute neck massage. It’s got to mean growth and learning, a safe environment to be ourselves, a culture of collaboration, a sense of belonging, and the opportunity to shine and grow as individuals. But perhaps most importantly, it’s got to mean fewer hours and an end to a culture of lost weekends.

How do we respond? Well, that’s the million-dollar question. Working from home is only the beginning. Does it mean a hybrid model where some employees return to the office and others continue to work from home? Does it mean a reduction in the working week from five days to four? Does it mean three days in and two days out, or four days in and one day out? Do we reduce working hours to, let’s say, 10 am to 4 pm? Do we increase the number of weeks available for vacation? Do we provide onsite childcare and access to sabbaticals? These are the types of questions we have to grapple with.

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have answers to all of these questions, but the pandemic did teach us extremely important lessons. And it is those lessons and learnings that we’re making bets on. Firstly, it was culture and a sense of purpose that helped us navigate our way through this crisis and into a leadership position. It was culture that enabled us to drive business impact when our clients needed it most, to innovate and to negotiate uncertain terrain during an entirely new shared reality.

Secondly, this isn’t the end of the office. We’re still an in-person experience, one that is capable of consistently producing great ideas thanks to a level of creative camaraderie that can only be produced in shared spaces. But there’s no reason why a sweet spot between the office and remote working can’t be found. One where the office and added flexibility co-exist. If we find that, the path towards a new normal will open up before us.

Thirdly, our importance within the business ecosystem has been heightened. We have built stronger and more dynamic relationships and solidified our partnerships, connecting more than ever with our clients. Now is the time to build on those partnerships and the value proposition of agencies. Finally, we have to recognise that the days of single-format leadership are numbered. We have been handed a golden opportunity to transform agency life, and this is as much a leadership challenge as it is a staffing one. That’s why multi-dimensional management has to be embraced.

The relationship between employer and employee is changing and it is our job to satisfactorily respond to that shifting dynamic. That will mean nurturing and growing entry-level talent, helping them feel safe, confident, accepted and challenged, and helping them to grow their craft. It will also mean providing new challenges for senior members of our team, allowing them to grow into new roles rather than remaining stuck in ones they already know. We must offer coaching, empowerment, trust, inspiration and opportunities to grow. If we get all these things right, we will remain employers of choice and the home of choice for a whole new generation of talent.


Professional highlight of the year

It’s impossible to overemphasise the magnitude of what we’ve been through these past 18 months or so. So, when I’m asked what the highlight of my year has been, the answer is simple: It’s the way we’ve rallied, the way we’ve communicated, the way we’ve risen to the occasion. How we’ve transformed, not just as an agency but as individuals. How our mentality of wanting to produce great work has never been stronger. How our culture has carried us through the roughest of seas. This is what has made me prouder than I’ve ever been. 


Rapid fire

What are you working on?
TBWA\RAAD.

What are you worrying about?
Our industry.

What are you smiling at?
These questions.

What are you reading?
Hit Refresh.

What are you watching?
Turning Point and Modern Family.

What are you eating?
On a meal plan – ekhhhh!

What are you listening to?
Nothing.

What are you playing?
Paddle tennis (trying).

What’s your hobby?
Spending time with my wife and facetiming my kids.

What’s your good habit?
Working out.

What’s your bad habit?
Food.

Who are you learning from?
Everyone.

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