HRM in the Middle East: current state, challenges and the future

HRM in the Middle East
HRM in the Middle East

Human Resource Management (HRM) is an important part of business success. Organizations need to find ways to manage their workforce to unleash the true power within. To do this, they can use a variety of tools and practices. But how to best handle HRM can depend on your location. There is no typical solution to problems because regional and cultural differences can impact the state of HRM. The breadth of HR responsibilities in the Middle East is much broader and diverse than in western countries, for example. What is the state of HRM in the Middle East currently and what are the most common challenges organizations must deal with?

What does the HRM scene look like in the Middle East?

There are common HR practices across the world from recruitment to performance and compensation management. On top of this, the workforce is global these days, meaning that most HRM systems need to handle international HR functions. These add another layer to HR practices, as organizations have to deal with employee visa issues and initial housing requirements, for instance. These types of issues are especially central for the Middle East that relies on large numbers of foreign workforce in a variety of fields.

Research in the middle eastern HR scene started rather scattered. A lot of professionals had to rely on other source material, making it difficult to focus on local problems and solutions. However, in recent years the industry has grown and HRM in the Middle East is becoming a lot more researched. It’s not only that the academia is looking closer to HRM practices in the region, the industry is developing and maturing as a whole. For example, you can now find a local HR management system in terms of technology and applications. The need to rely on international tools is no longer prevalent. The HR sector has a lot of local innovation which has led to the region being at the forefront of HR innovation. Interest, understanding and innovation in the region are increasing and the world’s attention is turning closer to the Middle East and its HR scene.

Major challenges to overcome

As mentioned above, there remains plenty to solve even as the industry is getting more mature. HR practices in the Middle East remain complex and they have also changed a lot in recent years as globalization in the region has truly taken hold.

Regional HR specialist in the Middle East currently have to deal with these major challenges:

Dealing with expatriate lifecycle

Previously, HRM had to deal with a foreign workforce that often showed up for two to four years on temporary foreign assignments. Afterwards, employees would leave and a new person would take place in the cycle. But a growing number of employees are staying put for longer. Improvements in the region in terms of off-work areas have made many professionals happier. Employees no longer consider the region as a short-term stop for career growth but many want to stay for longer.

Cultural differences

Having many different people come together is bound to create cultural shocks. HRM in the Middle East has to deal with these cultural differences. International work means that employees have to deal with different religions, cultures and practices along with political beliefs. The cultural shock is not something that only touches the foreign workforce. Even local employees will be face-to-face with different cultures and the HR management has to make sense of these issues.

Family impact

Families play a central role in the Middle East. Taking care of your family is a high priority for many and workplaces often have to adjust to this. Furthermore, family issues can be an especially high priority for foreign workers, as they have to deal with a lot more. For example, workers might find their families not settling in or struggling with cultural differences. This can result in difficulties keeping up with work or the need for extra time off and so on. HR professionals have to have the capability of dealing with these larger issues and they don’t have the luxury of focusing just on the employee.

Legal complexities

As the middle eastern HRM is still taking its first steps and moulding into what is to become, the legal framework in the region is also taking shape. This poses plenty of challenges for HR because it means that laws and regulations are constantly changing. It is crucial that any given HR management system is able to adapt and understand the changes. HR professionals need extra help in ensuring that every practice within the company is flexible and following the current legal framework.

One of the major issues in terms of the legal framework is also the local practices that still run deep in the region. This includes practices that could be counted as bribery or the passing of the official structures. There are still issues within an organization where actual legal steps are not being followed. This can cause serious problems for employees that might feel unprotected but also for the company as a whole.

What is the future of HRM in the Middle East?

With all this in mind, what does the future of HRM look like in the Middle East? The industry is growing rapidly which is a good thing for the region. There is a lot more understanding in regards to the challenges HR professionals face. As mentioned, innovation in the region is high which means that HRM is becoming a lot easier and increasingly understood.

It is obvious that the region’s future is currently being shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, too. In a recent PwC research, organizations in the region highlighted their concerns and worries in regards to HR and the future. These spoke strongly about the financial impact of the pandemic but also growing confidence in managing similar events in the future. Overall, over 55% of the regions CFO’s believed the future is going to highlight the region’s resiliency. Companies are looking to make HR operations leaner and more impactful.

The state of HRM in the Middle East is still evolving and a lot more needs to be done for it to fully mature. There are plenty of regional challenges that will require regional solutions. But the future looks bright in terms of confidence in the local ability to solve these issues.

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