The Parasuraman Service Excellence award, was awarded during the ‘Innovation Arabia’ conference this week to Lakshmi Nair, who did her MBA at Middlesex University in Dubai. This award recognises and rewards original theoretical and empirical research focusing on dimensions of service excellence. The award is named after Professor A. Parasuraman, voted in 1988 as one of the ten most influential figures in quality by the editorial board of ‘The Quality Review’ and recipient of Outstanding Marketing Educator Award , Elservier Distinguished Scholar Award  and Paul D. Converse Award  to name a few.
Ms Nair’s research was on “Work-life integration” and a new concept called “Leaveism” which is about employees taking annual leave or flexi time-off while being sick; or staff utilising their personal time to do office work mainly due to workload. This personal time can vary from working at home after office hours on a weekday or weekends; to working during annual leave or vacation. Prior studies in UK on Leaveism have established that such behaviours can impact employee well-being, health and ultimately organisational performance. According to CIPD and SHRM, there are evidences in UK and US of excessive work pressure and many are seen to work via phones and laptops even when they go on leave.
Lakshmi’s research objectives included trying to establish whether Leaveism is prevalent in UAE and to understand whether having flexible work arrangements in organisations would have any influence over such behaviours. For the empirical part of the study, Lakshmi, through an introduction from her mentor at Middlesex University, Mr Mohammad Meraj, collaborated with the Department of Economic Development’s (DED) Business Excellence Centre in Dubai, which promote and encourage best practices in organisations in UAE. As a result of this collaboration, she collected data through management interviews and employee surveys from organisations which won DED’s prestigious business excellence awards during the past three years.
The findings from this research indicate that all three aspects of Leaveism are prevalent in the UAE. From the survey, which had 506 participants, it was evident that majority work at least 1-3 times during their vacation and above 20% take their work home apart from staying back late at office. The surprising factor however was the response related to the first aspect of Leaveism; i.e. employees availing their annual leave (instead of sick leave) when they fall sick. Though 90% of managers during the interviews seemed to believe that such a practice does not exist in the UAE, the survey results indicated that this has been practiced during the past year by at least 26% of the respondents.
The study also indicated that 67% of survey respondents had the freedom to schedule their work flexibly by way of manager discretion. The interviews on the other hand, helped in identifying a lack of enthusiasm for such arrangements among managers mostly because they felt it does not suit the organisation’s work flow. Results from the study however indicate that flexible work arrangements can increase employee’s commitment towards their organisation and can decrease work overload, thereby indirectly influencing Leaveism behaviours. Lakshmi feels that benefits of such work arrangements can be properly measured only by formalising it in organisations and establishing methods to monitor its influence.
This research was done as part of fulfilment of Middlesex University’s MBA in Business Excellence programme, which is an internationally recognised degree from London. The University in Dubai also offers other pathways in MBA such as Finance, Marketing, Operations and Logistics and are designed to develop critical thinking, business acumen, functional expertise and ability to apply these learning in various business contexts in students.