UAE’s Generation Y bosses usher in new culture in workplace

The reign of the “bossy boss” in the UAE looks numbered – but that certainly doesn’t mean workers will get to while away the day playing Candy Crush.

As tech-savvy millennials – the so-called “Generation Y” born in the 1980s – rise in the workplace, managers will be forced to adopt a more collaborative approach, leadership experts say.

That means that in order to retain staff, managers will need to be less dictatorial and more democratic, as younger professionals demand more say.


Jim Matthewman, lead consultant at the consultancy Towers Watson Middle East, says adapting to this change is worth it because Gen Y will be “the most productive generation of all time”.

“I think the days of the ‘bossy boss’ are pretty numbered,” he says. “Within 10 years, Generation Y will be the majority of the workforce. What this new generation is looking for is more regular face-to-face dialogue with their bosses; they want to get honest evaluation.”

But this is leading to conflict in UAE businesses because older workers, or “Gen X”, are more self-reliant and less likely to be team players, Mr Matthewman warns.

On top of that, confidence in management in UAE corporations is at a low, with just 48 per cent of UAE employees saying they have trust in senior leaders, according to the Towers Watson Global Workforce Study.

“A part of it is because, in many of the firms in the UAE, the top leadership itself is changing over pretty rapidly,” adds Mr Matthewman, who is author of a book called The Rise of the Global Nomad, which analyses how Gen Y workers – many of them serial expatriates – are driving growth in emerging markets.

Retaining staff from this generation is more difficult, and they are more prepared to quit a job if they don’t like the management style, he says.

So how should older managers cope with the emergence of Gen Y professionals? Mr Matthewman says self-awareness, fostering team involvement, encouraging feedback – and crucially, acting on it – are all vital.

Making such efforts is well worth it given the talent and enthusiasm that Gen Y offers, the consultant adds: “They grew up with computers from day one. So they find it very easy to get and combine information, and therefore they are able to process work very quickly.”

Further evidence that the age of the domineering boss is on the wane comes in a study of 300 young nationals of Arabian Gulf states, published in February by Ashridge Business School.

“A New Generation: The Success of Generation Y in GCC Countries” found that younger professionals want a different kind of manager, and that “command and control leadership” is rapidly falling out of favour.

The most common trait held by regional managers is a “commanding” nature, with 32 per cent of those studied saying their managers have a “do what I tell you” approach, the research found. But 85 per cent of respondents said they would prefer a different management style, with more than half saying their ideal boss would be “visionary” or “democratic”.

Carina Paine Schofield, research fellow at UK-based Ashridge Business School, which also has offices in the UAE, says communication is key to improving the dynamic between Gen Y and older managers.

“They want to be part of a process, or part of a relationship, rather than somebody just telling them what to do,” she says.

Sue Honore, associate researcher at Ashridge, says that managers in the UAE are already starting to change to meet the demands of Gen Y.

“The young people are beginning to feel that their managers really do respect them and care for them,” she says. “But it’s not going to change overnight, it’s all cultural. There’s lots of things that play into that.”

It is not only the older generation of managers that needs to adapt its approach, as younger workers also need to be more flexible, adds Ms Honore.

“Gen Y has to understand that, in order to run a company, there are certain behaviours and certain things that people do, and therefore they’re going to have to flex a little bit to fit in,” she explains.

Emma Case, a trainer at Her Invitation, a UK-based company that provides training courses for women, agrees that Gen Y is more vociferous than those that came before it.

Ms Case, who plans to give a workshop on “power and influence” in Dubai in May, says that women especially are becoming more questioning about the way businesses are run.

“Gen Y has also been dubbed the ‘Generation Why Not?’” she says. “Now people – and women especially – are saying, ‘why not?’, why can’t I?’.”

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