Cross cultural characteristics and training of Australian project managers and working in the United Arab Emirates

  • Sabina Cerimagic

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In the last 30 years the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has welcomed many foreign companies into the Kingdom to conduct business. Many international companies realised that there was a huge potential for growth in the rich Middle Eastern market and major international companies, such as Pepsi and Starbucks, have established themselves in this market by setting up their regional headquarters in Dubai.
In addition to the potential for growth in this new expanding market, these international companies want their brand names to be recognised and affiliated with a positive image, in a market associated with growth, richness and affluence. However, what these companies do not realise is that if the expatriates they send to their overseas assignments are not appropriately trained and prepared, the expatriates are more likely to experience difficulties that can have a serious impact on their activities and lead to possible failure.
A major issue is that expatriates lacking appropriate cross-cultural training and preparation will not be able to adapt to a new country and working environment. In addition, this lack of acclimatisation to the new setting becomes not only detrimental to the individual, but also very costly to the company. In many cases, it can damage the company‚Äüs reputation and can undermine the future of the company in the host country and, as a result of this; those companies could potentially lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another potential problem for expatriates are differences in interpersonal behaviour. Since there is a cultural difference between Australia (a Western society) and the UAE (a Middle Eastern society) it is very easy for misunderstandings to occur. Hence, it is easy for the behaviour of an expatriate to be unintentionally offensive. For instance, certain behaviours that are accepted in Australia, for example shaking hands when introduced to a person of the opposite gender, are unacceptable in the UAE. With the proper and up-to-date cross-cultural training, this is one of the many problems that could be avoided.
The literature review led the author to believe that there is a lack of cross-cultural training provided to Australian expatriates who are working or are about to commence work in the UAE. To investigate this, the author designed an online survey, which was distributed to human resources managers and project managers already working in the UAE. A survey of 100 Australian project managers based in the UAE was then undertaken to discover the dimensions of the cultural business environment for these employees and how and/or if those employees have been cross-culturally prepared for their overseas assignment.
Once the online survey was analysed, it indicated that there was a lack of cross-cultural training provided to those expatriates. To gain a better picture as to why this was the case and to find out what could be done to fix the problem, and therefore help expatriates and their companies, the survey was followed by six case studies of senior management in large companies involved in project management, construction and property in the UAE.
All six case studies are based on Australian companies that have spread internationally, including to the UAE. The reason for this was that this research focused on Australian project managers working and living in the UAE.
Once all the information from the case studies was collected and analysed, the case studies revealed that although the UAE has a large expatriate population, (80 per cent of the population of the UAE is expatriates); most expatriates live in segregated communities. The majority of expatriates tend to live and spend time with people with a similar language and culture. In addition, the case study results confirmed the survey: Australian expatriates were lacking cross-cultural training. Most did not receive any cross-cultural training and those that got some form of preparation claimed that it was not adequate. More importantly, the case studies enabled the author to make recommendations on what type of cross-cultural training should be offered, how it should be delivered and when it should be delivered to the expatriates for the best effect.
Date of Award11 Feb 2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJim Mac Gregor Smith (Supervisor) & William Earl (Supervisor)

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