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Work Culture and Labour Market for Expats in the United Arab Emirates

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: January 2015

Work Culture

The work culture in the United Arab Emirates is a blend of traditional Arab practices and a certain level of accommodation of the Western style of doing business. For example, formality is still the norm in the UAE workplace, and, concomitantly, status and hierarchy are still very important. When greeting people, it is important to address them in the right order and use the correct title. The most senior person in the room should be greeted first, using ‘Sheikh’ (male) or Sheikha (female), which means ‘chief’. If they have no other title, you should use Sayed or Sayeda.

It is important to show respect at work, even more so than it is elsewhere. As is well known, modesty is important in terms of dress. This applies to both sexes whenever they are in public. In a business situation, men should wear formal clothes. Women should also dress formally, and will need to cover themselves, as in any situation outside their own home. There is generally a relaxed attitude among to punctuality, and to interruptions in meetings among locals. However, they may have different expectations of how expats should behave!


Labour Market

The UAE’s economy was in a good enough state to weather the global recession. There has been steady growth since 2011; in the last quarter of 2013, GDP rose by 4.4%. This booming economy means that the labour market is healthy. The unemployment rate is currently at 4.2%, which is half the world average. This rate has increased somewhat over the last decade, reflecting the enormous population growth that the country has experienced. Overall, economic indicators – not to mention the 0% income tax rate payable – suggest that it is worth considering a move to the UAE for work.

However, it should be noted that most of those who are unemployed are Emiratis. This is mostly because foreigners are not allowed to stay if they do not have a job. The unemployment rate for Emiratis is around 14%, and at least 20% among the youth. This is partly because of a lack of interest among locals in working in the private sector, where there are fewer benefits for them. The government is currently taking steps to solve this, mainly by introducing quotas and education schemes. These protectionist policies are officially known as ‘Emiratisation’. Again, though, these efforts have mostly been focused on the public sector.





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