Living and working in the Middle East can be a rewarding experience. Tax-free salaries, learning about new cultures and sharing your professional knowledge are just some of the reasons why expats consider such opportunities. But what else do Middle Eastern companies provide that their Western counterparts could learn from?

The Qatar Foundation has a community support department that focuses solely on developing the community within the organization. There’s a fully staffed gym, weekly excursions, movie nights and cultural events all designed to engage the employee, their families and the surrounding community…

Taking care of your neighbor

Oil companies such as Ras Gas have long understood that to keep their employees happy they must keep their families happy and so they have built communities which include schools, housing and amenities. They have departments that exist for the sole purpose of ensuring employees and their families are taken care of and don’t miss home too much. And this really is the attraction of working in the Gulf (as well as the tax-free money of course).

As a child growing up in Dubai I have fond memories of attending a company sponsored event for the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Diana. Who would have thought that a few decades later I would be back in Dubai watching another Royal wedding and yes, with a group of British expats?

Ex-pat life

While the Middle East has a reputation for being oppressive, restrictive and just plain difficult, there’s a great sense of community among the expats. Social media has modernized the process and sites such as internations and the expat forum certainly speed up the onboarding process. Yet much of this community development is still fostered by the companies and organizations that are trying to attract talent from overseas.

Talent shortage – pulling together

In an economic climate where it is the human resource that is in short supply it makes good business sense to develop such a model.  Mines in rural Australia have adopted this approach and if you head up to Capella in Queensland you’ll find a sprawling township in the middle of nowhere with all the amenities of an inner city suburb.  There’s a cinema, an aquatic centre with an Olympic size swimming pool and schools.

Culture shock

Having lived for three years in Qatar where everyone on my street knew the name of my cat it’s a shock to be back in Australia.  The only communication that I’m had with my neighbor is a note under the door to complain about the washing machine at 11 o’clock at night!

Perhaps it’s time to organise a street party?

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Written by Sarah Keast, General Manager, People & Organisational Development

I’m a people developer through and through. From watching a ‘lightbulb’ moment in a workshop to seeing a person’s face when they get promoted. That’s what it’s all about for me!

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6 Responses to “Middle Eastern welcome – expat community”

  1. Julian King says:

    I like your mention of community and cultural events – I think organisations in the Gulf are at their most successful in catering for their expats when they make an effort to bridge the gap with the local community. Too often expats can live in a bubble with little connection to their surrounding cultures, leading to alienation and family dissatisfaction – the most commonly cited reason for the failure of global work assignments. This pastoral care goes beyond CSR and retention – around the world we see evidence of large corporations looking to blur the line between work and ‘life’.
    Another point to note here is how the nature of expat assignments is changing. In the Gulf, as elsewhere, expats are staying longer and longer, even retiring there in some cases. Their kids grow up and often stay themselves (or return like you did!). In other words, the expat location becomes ‘home’. The nature of the current demographics, despite nationalisation pressures, means it makes sense for companies to do everything they can to encourage this.

  2. John Ludike says:

    Nicely articulated article and comment. I would like to add that support provided by companies to employees not consistent accross region and prospective expats would be well advised to research specific policies and prcesseses of companies before joining and above all not take either external of internal HR Recruiter’s word for everything. Look at comments on Glassdoor.com and request actual copies of various policies from organisation re housing, education, travel, repatriation ‘medical and most importantly end of term gratuity payments (which are like pension or retirement fund contributions).

  3. Diana Rosberg says:

    I’ m certain the community aspect adds a lot to why my family and I are so happy here. There’s always something to do, and it’s always family friendly. Our girls head out our door and meet a cadre of friends of all colors and religions. Yes, sometimes it may feel a little like the Truman Show, but really, if all communities put this much effort into community-building, wouldn’t we all have a better life?

  4. Enid says:

    Hi,
    I like the idea of some privacy. I have lived for 29 years in the Middle East, and sometimes privacy becomes a luxury (knowing the name of your Cat may be a bit too much for me). But at the same time, it is nice to know that people ask about you, your wellbeing, and your life generally.
    I fully believe that in today’s time, companies need to make the Families just as happy and comfortable as their employees. Think about it, an employee’s family is an extension of him/her. Many companies lose talented employees due to the fact that their families could not adjust in the new location.
    A sense of community also needs to bring with it a sense of responsibility. Sadly, here in the region everything is done for you for a fee. Many expats forget how to do things on their own, which affects their children who grow up here. This later makes it difficult for these children to bend when they return home for University.
    Overall, The Middle East brings something which other regions do not. This “something” has be experienced firsthand, as it varies from one person to another.

  5. Julie Nicol says:

    This article highlights the many positives of living and working as an expat in the Middle East, for both families and single people. There is a real opportunity to spend quality time with your family and friends and to socialise with people of all ages and nationalities. The downside is that the expat community is a small one, everyone knows everyone and it can be difficult to keep you private life private! So be carfeul!

    As an HR Recruiter, I try to be as transparent as I can about what to expect from both the employer and the country you are moving too (bearing in mind that labour laws differ in each country). It is important that potential expats remain flexible, as the packages on offer here can be structured differently for each company and sometimes each level within an organisation. A full expat package is often the sign of a people-focused employer, but you shouldn’t expect your employer to pay for everything as this is no longer a hardship post – as Julian King said, the Middle East is becoming home for many expats.

  6. Sarah Keast says:

    Thank you all for taking the time to comment on my first blog.
    Having the opportunity to work as an expat is one that I don’t take for granted. I think that as more people realise how international experience can add value to a career more people will want to do it.
    In turn employers will become more savvy in what they offer and perhaps more choosy with regards to who they are looking for.