Q&A: Urban Associates: “Managers in the UAE have a limited disciplinary toolbox compared to those in Saudi Arabia and Qatar”

Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 9 Nov 2016

HR experts discuss the range of disciplinary procedures available to employers, and when to employ them

The art of disciplining is a difficult one, but even more so when the employees you are dealing with come from different cultures. People Management spoke to Zhamal Nanaeva, CEO and co-founder of Urban Associates, as well as several other professionals at regional branches of the HR consulting firm, about the laws governing discipline and why some cultures may appear to be more lenient than others.
Saving face is very important for some people. How does this affect the act of disciplining an employee?
Among the managers of the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, disciplining style and action can differ. One similarity that we see in the countries where we operate is that it is a common practice for managers not to react during the first instance of an employee’s minor negligence, especially if he or she is a new joiner. And so, disciplinary measures are enforced gradually, with respect to the local labour laws.
 
The situation may also differ based on the industry or the nationality of the manager – public sector or Khaleeji (Gulf Arab) managers are thought to be more considerate and forthcoming than some other employers and nationalities.
 
What is the range of disciplinary procedures available to managers?
Repeated or aggravated instances of negligence are not tolerated and this is where a major regional difference in disciplinary style kicks in. Managers in the UAE have a limited disciplinary toolbox compared to those in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who can prevent an employee from travelling overseas – expats require an exit permit from their employer to travel overseas – or from switching jobs, as expats require a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to change jobs.
 
Is the art of disciplining evolving?
As each country’s economic development progresses, so do the labour laws and the relationship between employer and employee. Qatar is introducing changes in its labour practices from December 2016. While not completely eradicating the NOC and exit permit requirements, it is an indication of an evolving labour market in the country, including the art of disciplining. Another example of the evolution of disciplinary policies is in Oman, where the government has recently announced plans to abolish the NOC requirement entirely.
 
What kind of disciplinary styles work best?
While differing in style and approach, the most commonly cited successful measure among UAE managers is the adoption of a corporate disciplinary policy. To be effective, such a policy document should be well articulated and communicated to all employees. Clarity about dos and don'ts has proven to be the most effective tool.
 
It is worth considering, though, that disciplinary actions typically do not apply to local talent, whose employment status is well protected by the local labour authorities.
 
Would staff rather leave an organisation altogether than stay knowing they have been disciplined?
According to the 'Skills Gap in the Middle East and North Africa' survey, published by Bayt.com and YouGov in May 2016, 59 per cent of UAE jobseekers highlighted ‘difficulty to get a new job with current skills’ as an issue. Given such market conditions, the current trend is for Arab employees to be more cautious and tolerant of disciplinary measures. As one Jordanian candidate once mentioned to us: “I prefer to tolerate my moody manager and stay below his radar screen to survive until salary day.”