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Middle East Review

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Literature Review on Human Resource Management in the Middle East.

This paper seeks to investigate and review the literature of Human Resources Management (HRM) and its integration into the Middle East. According to Jordanian researchers, Aladwan, Bhunupgopan, & Fish, the few available 129 HRM Jordanian studies are not based on empirically-based but tend to be anecdotal in nature. Consequently, little concrete information exists to chart an effective awareness of either current or future HRM strategies or practices in the Middle East (2014). More fundamentally, structural barriers exists as well. Some of the local challenges that confronted the region included the very rapid demographic shift in the population, the varying oil prices, the glaring extremes of wealth, inadequate educational system and a very large semi illiterate population, and less than assertive governments that failed to bring long-term and short-term changes (Harry, 2007).
To begin, there must be some recognition of the diversity of the Middle East. The three main areas are so-called because of the legacy of colonization and European statecraft. The Levant consists of the geographical region that includes Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. This area has a very long history tied to Europe going back centuries to the Crusades and the Holy Roman Empire. The Gulf regions comprised of the Arabian Peninsula and has only been regionally important in the past century and the discovery of oil. This area has long been underdeveloped but is the bed rock of traditional Arabian Bedouin culture. North Africa of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and to some extent, Egypt are considered cultures that have mixed Arab with indigenous African cultures. This article examines the overlap of cultures in the human resources management context. As an example, researchers such as Harry (2007) pinpoints several problems related to human resource management in the Gulf region. International trade pours into the area unabated. In the Gulf Region, some literature has been written about foreign guest workers. In some nations such as Qatar, guest workers outnumber the native population (Harry, 2007). In these same nations, the levels of unemployment hovers around 25% and to fact that the Arab world has one of the highest birth rates in the world (Harry, 2007). In some nations, the population is very young with 40 percent of the population is under 14. The lack of employment for such a young group can lead to social instability. However, some of the statistics is lacking because the Gulf governments are not very transparent with current statistics of their foreign population. Indeed, the most recent data comes from 2002 (Harry, 2007)!
As regards human resource models In the Gulf region, many of the native population prefer comfortable government jobs as opposed to more rigorous jobs in the private sector. Private sector jobs might be under a foreign enterprise which have higher expectations for their employees (Harry, 2007). In fact, this very capital, education intense jobs are not desired by native Gulf people as government jobs are less demanding. Another interesting aspect is the greater inclusion of women in the Gulf and the Middle Easter workforce. Harry states that “GCC female citizens are generally better educated than male citizens and consequently are found to be more capable of performing higher levels of jobs. Plus, women often set up their own businesses and are often more successful than men at running small enterprises. Thus, the bias against women in the labor markets that hampers women’s participation might become even stronger when the competition for jobs is not against foreigners but against male citizens (2007)”.
As one might expect, HRM values are molded by the national cultural values. As the Middle Eastern Arab culture tends to be conservative, tribal-oriented, and adverse to outsiders, these values affects a Jordanian’s everyday life. Thus, recruitment and selection for a job is rarely based on merit or ability or any objective manner. Any vacation position would be announced through personal or tribal networks. Furthermore, the literature revels that professional training and development is not universally taking serious, but rather as a time for a “vacation or leisure time activity” since the job was “gift” from a member of the person’s network (Aladwan, Bhunupgopan, & Fish, 2014). A typical function of HRM might be conducting professional performance appraisals. These generally only occur in private sector jobs in which efficiency is held as a much better goal. Interestingly, Aladwan & al (2014) explain that one optimistic aspect of performance appraisals is that their link to rewards and benefits could drive improvement of the general work ethic. This can be done by understanding 5 aspects of performance appraisal systems, i.e. control, continuity, formality, information, and motivation. If performance appraisals were introduced in this manner in the Middle East, they could be a better tool to create a more productive workforce (Aladwan, Bhunupgopan, & Fish, 2014). Adding to the literature about the Middle East is research about Expatriate life, particularly in Saudi Arabia where western expatriates are essentially confined to compound cities. Lauring & Selmer (2009) conducted a fascinating ethnographic field study of life in such a compound. The researchers pointed out several applicable theories, social identity theory, contact hypothesis, and spill-over theory. Social identity theory explained that group membership was a fundamental part of a person’s identity. Contact hypothesis detailed that the more close and sustained contact a person has contact with another cultural group, the more positive the attitude that will develop between the two groups (2009). Spill-over theory is pretty much what it sounds like. This theory states that after prolong contact, the worklife and home life will overlap. These theories reflect what happened for expats living in Saudi Arabia. Lauring & Selmer interviewed 39 interviews with expat managers, spouses, and other country nationals. In this case, the compound was a Saudi subsidiary of a large Danish company. Interestingly, much of the feedback was that life in the compound was “like an endless summer vacation.” What that feedback stated was how the expats were shielded from the real life in Saudi Arabia. Yet, the sentiment validates the social theories (2009). Sinangil & Ones (2003) provide some interesting information about gender differences in the job performances of expatriates. They sought to address the basic if women expatriates capable of adequately performing to their very best. The next question was to gauge the public’s reception to western women expats in their midst. The answer to these questions was a solidly loud, YES! In fact, Sinangil and al (2003) that women could bring better developed social and interpersonal skills in an expat experience in a strong multicultural settings (2003). The next HRM is the regulation of private businesses and their HM. Since the early 2000s, the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia has implemented in what can only be called, excessive regulations of the private sector. Mellahi (2007) provided a very thorough of the very restrictive nature of Saudi regulations over the private sector. For instance, if unemployment for Saudis escalate, the government will demand that the private sector accommodates more jobs (2007). Nonetheless, the KSA (as it is often known in the Middle East) has been criticized for its lack of labor rights for foreign workers, many of whom are Muslims. In fact, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and World Trade Organization (WTO) have repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia reform its labor laws with regard to the issues of social protection of workers, labor rights and uniform work standards in the private sector. However, a key factor in human resource management is the fact that KSA has one of the world’s highest birth rates. 60 percent of the population is under 21 years old. By 2030, the population could reach 46 million, according to some forecasters. The kingdom is challenged to find or create jobs for so many people in the near future. Also, social status and employment are related. Few Saudis like blue collar or manual work. Most prefer the clerical or managerial jobs that are found in the public sector, not the private. Giangreco. Carugati,., Pilati, & Sebastiano,(2010) pointed to the Performance Appraisal Systems (PAS) in the Middle East and to what extent are they similar their counterparts in the west. According to the scholars above, PASs are an inextricably tied gauging employee productivity. In fact, any PAS receives inputs from the strategies, policies and objectives from the firm’s board, consequently, the outputs would be a company that has better strategies, policies and objectives from now on... Equally interesting is the fact that while the focus of PAS in the West examines on individual performance, the Middle East prefers to ME to emphasize collective performance of the organization (Giangreco. Carugati, Pilati, & Sebastiano, 2010). Their research presented the fact that comparing and contrasting PAS in the west and ME remains difficult because employment in the Middle EAST (ME) is made and retained through familial connections. However, what one can broadly say about PAS in that they are more generally characterized by external critical conditions with an overemphasis on the internal factors what may result in a naive discounting of the external forces effecting the PAS. Indeed, the key elements to take into account are chiefly: general economic level, economic stability, political stability, personal safety, social norms of behavior, and local national cultures (Giangreco. Carugati, Pilati, & Sebastiano, 2010). It might be useful to examine several Middle Eastern nations on Hofstede country comparison chart.

As we can see from this analysis provided by Hofstede, if one were a HRM manager, one can make quite a few deductions. First, Saudis seems to be the most respectful of authority. But, this clearly comes from living under an absolute monarchy for over 80 years. They are very resistant to change, have strong sense of gender roles that they hold for a long time. Yet, their high indulgence factor affirms they prefer jobs that do not require much effort so that they can spend more time on leisurely activities. In fact, as discussed before, the high number of foreign workers who actually do much of the tough labor in the oil fields (Harry, 2007).
Morocco seems to be the most at avoiding extreme behavior. However, this could be because the Kingdom of Morocco has very long ties with the west, particularly, its former colonizer, France. One can see that in their very individualistic outlook which would be much more typical of a Westerner than an Arab. However, one puzzling feature is the long-term orientation. I assume that this means that one with a low score would be a person who does not plan for the future. In that case, a human resource manager might be reluctant to relocate to Jordan or morocco for something this to last a very long-time, but maybe some type of retail or tourist related business that it sure to experience turn-over in a short time. My homeland of Jordan seems to be the perfect medium, although this would not be the case geographically. But, yes, Jordanians have deep ties with the West, but yet, we still identify with the traditional desert Bedouin culture.
Now, let’s look at three other major Middle Eastern nations, namely Egypt, the UAE, and Lebanon.

As one can see, every for all these six nations are Arab Muslim majority nations in the Middle East, there exists amazing contrast between nations. Part of the explanation is geographic, cultural, and majorly historical. The UAE is a fairly new country, less than 100 years old and developed only in the past 50 years. On the other hand, Egypt and Lebanon has been around for centuries.
However, what jumps out first in the strong power distance of the U.A.E. certainly, this reflects the traditional Gulf culture. The low levels of long-term orientation and indolence would make for a profitable short-team business in Egypt or Lebanon. One can agree that a business in hospitality or commerce would be good for those countries. The UAE would make a great finance center. Lebanon has the reputation of being the most westernized of all the Arab nations in the Middle East because it is the most mixed religiously.
Some takeaways from the charts for items that they have in common is power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Generally, Arab nations have a great deal of respect for authority, however. They are not risk takers but would pursue a business in which the rewards are great but little strenuous work is involved.
As can be seen, one can only scratch the surface of HRM in the Middle East. As globalization increases one can expect more such research (Mellahi, 2007).


Aladwan, K., Bhanugopan, R., & Fish, A. (2014). Managing human resources in Jordanian organizations: Challenges and prospects. International Journal of Islamic and Middle Eastern Finance and Management, 7(1), 126-138. Retrieved from
Dah, A., & Fakih, A. (May 01, 2016). Decomposing Gender Wage Differentials Using Quantile Regression: Evidence from the Lebanese Banking Sector. International Advances in Economic Research, 22, 2, 171-185.
Gelfand, M. J., Leslie, L. M., & Fehr, R. (May 01, 2008). To Prosper, Organizational Psychology Should... Adopt a Global Perspective. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29, 4, 493-517.
Giangreco, A., Carugati, A., Pilati, M., & Sebastiano, A. (2010). Performance appraisal systems in the Middle East: Moving beyond Western logics. European Management Review, 7(3), 155-168. doi:10.1057/emr.2010.13.
Harry, W. (January 01, 2007). Employment creation and localization: the crucial human resource issues for the GCC. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18, 1, 132-146.
Lauring, J., & Selmer, J. (July 01, 2009). Expatriate compound living: an ethnographic field study. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 20, 7, 1451-1467.
Mellahi, K. (January 01, 2007). The effect of regulations on HRM: private sector firms in Saudi Arabia. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18, 1, 85-99.
Rees, C. J., Mamman, A., & Braik, A. B. (January 01, 2007). Emiratization as a strategic HRM change initiative: case study evidence from a UAE petroleum company. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18, 1, 33-53.
Sinangil, H. K., & Ones, D. S. (July 01, 2003). Gender Differences in Expatriate Job Performance. Applied Psychology, 52, 3, 461-475.…...

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