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US firms 'need to study Arab culture'

Manama, July 31, 2010

US firms aren't getting the best out of their Bahraini staff because they don't understand them, according to a specialist.

Gulf Air IT infrastructure head Dr Jassim Haji, who was awarded a PhD from Northumbria University, UK, reached this conclusion in his dissertation on the obstacles faced by foreign companies operating in Bahrain.

The study, believed to be the first of its kind in the region, focuses on US companies employing Bahrainis whose national culture governs their daily routine.

Dr Haji used computer firm EDS-Bahrain, now HP, as an example, exploring the conflicts that arise at the work place when "organisational culture encountered national culture and customs".

"I have experience working with several American companies in the Middle East region," he said. "As executive director of infrastructure for EDS, I noticed a number of differences between the Arab and the American cultures because in many ways, the Gulf region is unique.”

"American management comes here with policies fit for Westernised companies in the US or the Europe. They have different ideas on things such as meetings and punctuality, which can be a big surprise to people in Bahrain, who may not be used to them.”

"A lot of my research focused on the comparison of Eastern and Western organisational cultures and I found that they have historic roots going back many years. The region's culture has very strong connections to the philosophies of the ancient Arab world and I think there is a gap that needs to be bridged that American management doesn't understand,” he added.

The primary motivation for the study is Dr Haji's observation of the problems associated with the cultural diversity at EDS, where he worked between 2001 and 2008.

He said that as a Bahraini employee educated in the West, his position in the company was unique. Growing up in Bahrain, he was fully aware of the customs and the influences that played a major role in people's lives, he added.

He said that in view of his Western education, he was also seen as 'one of them'.

"This position meant I was able to gain the trust of both managers of different nationalities and fellow workers, while also understanding issues of conflict from both sides," said Dr Haji. "I observed that the lack of awareness of the influence culture played in the lives of the Bahraini employees created conflict and misconceptions at the work place.

"The dissemination of corporate policies to the employees also created a sense of alienation and suspicion among the Bahrainis. Corporate policies are structured to be implemented at the work place.”

"However, no research has been conducted to understand the factors that EDS policy-makers should pay attention to when setting down policies for a particular work environment,” he added.

He said that a US company would undoubtedly struggle to get maximum commitment and productivity from its local workforce if it doesn't understand the role national culture plays in the employees' lives and how it affects their approach to work.

Dr Haji offers a number of recommendations that he believes will allow US companies to integrate more easily into Arab culture.

"I think there should be a database created for American companies starting up in the Arab world," he said. "It could be shared by them and used to help train managers on the various aspects of local culture.

"I also encourage companies to let their managers come to the country and let them adapt for themselves ahead of the official appointment. Let them be part of it and socialise in the midst of that culture. Nobody wants to lose their own culture, but this will allow both sides to be integrated in the workplace,” he concluded. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Bahrain | US firms | Arab culture | Bahraini staff | DR Haji |

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