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Purpose – The purpose of this study is to explore the spectrum of challenges encountered by the HR professionals while managing the hiring practices in a multicultural society in medium-to-large health care organizations, both private and governmental, within Abu Dhabi and Al Ain cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Design/methodology/approach – Qualitative research methods were used to obtain the required data, and in-depth individual interviews with key HR professionals were conducted.
Findings – The findings of this study have indicated that there are unique, major and minor challenges that workforce diversity inflicted on the hiring process, among the selected health care organizations in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Research limitations/Implications – The time and resources for this research study were not adequate to gather sufficient samples outside Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. All interviewees have rejected the tape recording and it was difficult to conduct focus group interviews to gain wider perspective. Since this research is qualitative in nature, it is hard to generalize across other sectors and cities. It is required to have quantitative researches in this area.
Originality/value – This paper provides valuable insights regarding the hiring processes challenges in Multicultural society in UAE’s health sector which has not been adequately investigated before.
Keywords: Hiring Challenges, Culture, Multicultural society, Diversity Management, Recruitment, Selection, Orientation, United Arab Emirates, Health industry.
Paper type – Research paper
Diversity management has been one of the widespread research areas in Human Resources Management in the 21st century that aims at understanding and improving the management of culturally diversified workforce in organizations. Diversity is a fact that could not be ignored or avoided and it has both good and bad sides. The importance of this topic lies in the significant impact of cultural differences on how work groups interact (Kossek & Others, 2003). Also, it is seen as a source of competitive advantage through effective management of a diverse workforce. Another reason is the changing composition of workforce around the world towards different language, age, gender, ethnic background, nationality, lifestyles and other characteristics (Seymen, 2006). According to Harris (2004), “Promoting cultural synergy influences social change in human behavior and improves system effectiveness”.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, in general and UAE in particular, are considered a rich area for research on diversity management due to the unique composition of workforce and demographics (Forstenlechner, 2010). This high level of diversity has great influence on managing the hiring process and results in many challenges which will be discussed in this research.
According to Marshall (1998), multicultural societies are featured by cultural pluralism which means the division of the culture into diverse religion, age, ethnic, linguistic, racial groups, national origin or gender (D’Netto & Sohal, 1999; Kossek & Others, 2003). It can be found at various levels, such as cities, nations, schools, neighborhoods or businesses.
Organizations foster and manage diversity in order to survive in increasingly heterogeneous societies and to sustain their competitive advantage. Diversity stimulates problem solving, creativity and system flexibility (Gomez-Mejia, Balkin & Cardy, 2007).
Diversity Management at multicultural (or diversified) organizations means building and maintaining policies, practices and regulations that will treat all employees fairly and will leave no advantage for a group over the others in order to enable them to reach the required levels of performance to achieve the organizational goals (D’Netto & Sohal, 1999; Jenner, 1994; Thomas, 1994).
The Hiring Process
The hiring process is divided into three sections: Recruitment, Selection and Orientation. The Recruitment Process is the process of creating a pool of candidates who are potentially suitable for the position by using a variety of recruitment sources. The selection process is the process of making the hiring/rejection decision for the list of applicants according to the selection criteria and by using a variety of selection tools. While the orientation process is the process of getting the new employee to know all aspects of the organization (Gomez-Mejia et al., 2007; Ivancevich, 2010).
Diversity Practices in the Hiring Process
Successful organizations aim to attract the best candidates regardless of their ethnicity, gender or age. Their hiring practices should be based on job-related and organizational criteria. In addition, the recruiters should be trained and skilled to run a successful selection process (Kandola & Fullerton, 1994; Cornelius, 1999).
And in order to assure that a diversified group of candidates apply to the job, the advertisements should be placed in ethnic language newspapers as well as the regular daily newspapers and websites. It is also important to have a diversified interview panel and selection techniques that would allow diverse people to answer to the questions or tests at their best capability (Morrison, 1992; Schreiber et al., 1993). The interview panel should be highly skilled and trained to understand candidates from different cultural backgrounds, researchers have found that most interviewers have no understanding of special interview techniques that suit candidates from different ethnical backgrounds (Caudron, 1990; Morrison, 1992).
Challenges in Multicultural Societies
The literature on cultural diversity management has studied issues like understanding the concept of diversity management (McVittie, 2008; Miller & Rowney, 1999), the effect of diversity on individuals and groups, the benefits of diversity (Risberg & Søderberg, 2008), the diversity management best practices and HR strategies (D’Netto & Sohal, 1999, 2003), and the effect of diversity on organizational performance (Richard S. Allen, Gail Dawson, Kathleen Wheatley, Charles S. White (2008); Velma E. McCuiston, Barbara Ross Wooldridge, Chris K. Pierce, (2004).
Most of the available literature has addressed the diversity in Western European context (McVittie, 2008, Miller & Rowney, 1999; Harris, 2004; Leveson & Joiner, 2009 ; & Kramar, 1998). On the other hand, less attention is given to diversity management studies in the Middle East region and the subject is considered under-studied according to the 4th Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference (2010). Some of the available literature in the region studied employees’ attitudes towards diversity (Bakr Ahmad Alserhan, Ingo Forstenlechner, Ahmad Al-Nakeeb, (2009) ; Tariq M. Khan, Fintan Clear, Ahmed Al-Kaabi, Vahid Pezeshki, 2010) as well as managing diverse teams in the Middle East (Forstenlechner, 2010 ; Neal, 2010).
With regards to the challenges faced by HR professionals in multicultural societies, the literature has studied the challenges in Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and the hiring difficulties when doing business abroad (Dowling et al., 2008). Increasing diversity through recruitment practices is another widespread topic (Tipper, 2004) as well as challenges in leading diversified workforce in general (McCuiston et al., 2004).
Some of the challenges that face HR professionals when managing a multicultural workforce is convincing the higher management that diversity as well as good quality diversity management programs are useful to the organization. These challenges stem from the fact that some top managers still perceive diversity management as costly and can cause disruption in the organization (D’Netto & Sohal, 1999). Another challenge faced by HR professionals is the communication issue (Adler, 1986; Loden & Rosener, 1991).
Case of UAE
The United Arab Emirates, like the GCC labor market in general, is considered a unique case because of its workforce composition. According to the (Statistics Center – Abu Dhabi, 2010), the size of the employed labor force in 2008 in the city of Abu Dhabi was 889,417 of whom only 10% are nationals. This high profile of non national workforce is considered a challenge for HR Professionals. According to Mohammed Ben Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (2008), the insufficiency of skilled labor in Gulf countries and UAE is a major problem.
Most of the literature about UAE has discussed topics related to Emiratization as an employment challenge (Forstenlechner, 2008), diversity in banking sector (Alserhan et al., 2009) and difficulties in training a diversified workforce (Jones, 2008). No literature was located on the challenges in the hiring process within a multicultural society like UAE. Therefore, this study contributes to the HR Management literature by exploring the spectrum of challenges encountered by the HR Professionals while managing the hiring practices of culturally-diverse workforce in UAE’s health care organizations.
Challenges in the Hiring process in UAE
The supply of the labor force is being affected by the economic and growth conditions. For example, India (which is a strong resource for cheap labor inside UAE) now undergoes a major technological and economical growth which causes the skilled labor to return to India (or what is called Brain Gain) and reduces the flow of labor outside the country (Anand, 2007).
According to Al Ali (2008), it is difficult to strategize for long term programs as this non-national workforce is hired on a temporary employment visa which is considered a “transient environment” that doesn’t encourage long term commitment as it creates a sense of job insecurity and uncertainty. Therefore, special efforts need to be given in the hiring process to attract and retain the workers. Another challenge facing HR professionals is hiring female workers. According to Naithani (2010): “Participation of female in migrating workforce to GCC is one of the least in the world with only 29 per cent of the migrants being females”. This shows that females have less opportunity for finding a job. Also, the laws and regulations related to visas and work permits sometimes prevents workers from exchanging jobs as they would need a no objection certificate from their previous sponsor (Naithani, 2010).
The majority of non national workforce in the UAE is from Asian countries like Philippines or India, which is considered a challenge when hiring. According to Al-Waqfi & Forstenlechner (2010), managing groups of people from similar nationality has multiple difficulties and can lead to conflicts, stereotyping as well as to less commitment as these groups indentify with their similar social group over the organization.
STEROTYPING MAHA ADD HERE
In terms of team management, multicultural workforce can be a true challenge when managing teams. Therefore, the hiring process should take into consideration that the new hire will “fit” in the team (Neal, 2010).
According to Mohammed Ben Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (2008), 91% of the key positions in Gulf countries are occupied with expatriates due to lack of qualified national workforce. The report also revealed that in healthcare, only 63% of the Arab CEO’s believed that there is an adequate transfer of knowledge and know-how from expatriates to nationals which led to continuously depending on expatriates to fill the positions and not achieving the required Emiratization quotas. The report also highlighted that fact that the cost of non national labor is increasing significantly which will reflect on the hiring process in terms if rising wages and security. In terms of hiring expatriates in different levels, the report shows that it is extremely difficult to hire in senior management, followed by middle management and operational/technical positions.
Since the research approach that has been selected is exploratory in nature, qualitative research methods are best suited for obtaining the required data. To explore the variety of challenges encountered by the human resource personnel while managing the hiring practices requires the use of qualitative research methods. The researchers have decided to conduct the research on health care organizations due to ease of access and availability of many heterogeneous hospitals in size and ownership.
The selected organizations are located in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain cities, these hospitals were all selected within Abu Dhabi Emirate to save travelling time and expenses on the researchers. Five in-depth interviews were conducted with key HR personnel in the selected organizations. The researchers have approached the organizations through email and phone calls to obtain the approval for interviews. Once the approval was obtained, a detailed email was sent to the interviewees including the date and time of the interview as well as a consent form stating the purpose of the study, the procedures, and the confidentiality of data. All of the selected organizations have rejected the use of tape recording. Following acceptance of their verbal approval, the research team was divided into groups to conduct the interviews simultaneously.
All interviews answers and notes were transformed from handwritten notes to typed transcripts and notes ready for analysis. The adopted analytical approach was Thematic Content Analysis (TCA) where the research team scanned the transcribed text, created and applied relational coding between categories and recognized common themes across participants.
The research team has adopted the introductory techniques shown in Appendix 1. This ensures conformity and unifies the approach to potential participants at all research sites.
The literature review has discussed few challenges faced by multi cultural organizations in the hiring process; however, it has not totally uncovered those challenges in UAE. Hence this research aims to explore more challenges faced by the HR Department during their hiring process in multicultural organizations. In this study, two main research questions were formed. These questions were ordered from general to specific and from most significant to least significant. Further questions were probed according to the interviewee answers.
Main Research Questions:
RQ1: What are the hiring challenges faced by HR professionals in health care sector in the multicultural society of UAE?
RQ2: What were the most difficult challenges faced? What were the least difficult challenges faced?
The interview is mainly loosely structured with open-ended questions to maximize participants’ responses (Mack et al., 2005).
Kvale (1996) details seven stages of conducting in-depth interviews. Verifying involves checking the credibility and validity of the information gathered. A method called triangulation is used as a means of checks and balances. Basically, one type of triangulation would be to use multiple perspectives to interpret a single set of information. Another simple way to triangulate would be to have a colleague read the transcripts to see if he/she came away with the same overall meaning (Guion, 2009).
Initially, each team member was assigned a transcript, since the research sample consists of five health care facilities and the research team members are five. Each member read the assigned transcript and attempted to identify main themes. Then, as a method of credibility and validity check, triangulation was implemented. Afterwards, the research team sat together to do the final analysis. Categories were color-coded by using text highlight color.
This section represents the final template of data analysis. Each title covers a broad theme and its associated categories. The initial research objectives are directly addressed by the following themes: Communication Challenge, Working Hours, Hiring Cost, Group and Team Management, Cultural Group Dominance, Failure to Adjust to the Culture, Turnover, Bias and Stereotyping, Selection Process, Emiratization.
These themes provide a general outline of the research team interpretations of the interviewees’ perceptions.
Participants in this research were referred to the as ‘interviewees’. The words of the interviewees were presented in quotes where they were “italicized and bounded by double quotation marks.” The final discussion section of this research report will review the research analysis entailment in relation to the research objectives and derive from the interview data a summary of perceived diversity challenges in the hiring process. Each title presents a data summary within each theme
The results of this study have indicated that all selected hospitals have been facing challenges in the hiring process due to high rate of cultural diversity in UAE. The reported challenges were divided into major and minor ones. Some of these challenges were found to be common among the selected hospitals, like communication, hiring cost, culture group dominance, and group and team management. The minor challenges were found to be the working hours, Emiratization, failure to adjust to culture, biases and stereotyping, turnover, and selection process (certificate authentication and background check).
The research questions have also uncovered new challenges that were not found in the studied literature review, for example the working hours, failure to adjust to the culture, selection process (certificate authentication and background check).
The challenges were sorted under the three phases of the hiring process: recruitment, selection and orientation phases. Based on the discussed literature review, the challenges are:
Diversity Challenges in Recruitment Phase
Attracting a diversified workforce in terms of gender was found to be a challenge affected by some culture group requirements in working conditions. For example, Arabic female candidates prefer shorter working hours due to family obligations as well as cultural norms. The nature of work in the health sector requires 24/7 service which may not be suitable for females. On the other hand Naithani (2010) has reported a different set of challenges pertaining to hiring female workers.
Also, it was reported that UAE national candidates want to continue their education which may conflict with the working hours. This challenge was not discussed in the researched literature review.
“Some locals are still studying so they can’t leave the collage to work with us. With UAE fen males, it is difficult for them to accept shift jobs because they need to go home late.”
Cost of Hiring:
The cost of hiring was found to be a common challenge in all hospitals which confirms what Mohammed Ben Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (2008) and Naithani (2010) have reported. In terms of health sector, the problem is even bigger. Part of the cost is related to the workforce demography in UAE which is composed mainly of non-nationals. These include the cost of international advertisements, the cost of relocation (i.e. visa, air tickets, shipping allowances, and hotel accommodation), competitive compensation packages, the high cost of living, using hiring agencies abroad, and the high standard lifestyle and backgrounds of certain nationalities.
The other part of the cost is related to UAE employment regulations. The Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) regulations which require passing the licensing test for the medical jobs. The test for nurses is online however for the physicians they must take it in person inside HAAD. The hospital brings them on a visit visa to take the test and bears the accommodation and other expanses. Not all candidates pass the exam; hence the hospital takes the risk of losing such expanses. The maximum number of exam trials is three. Furthermore, security check is required by UAE immigration law before hiring any candidate they should pass the security clearance. However, not all cases are being cleared which imposes a hiring cost on the organization.
“We face a major problem related to the cost of hiring because first we bring the medical staff on a mission visa which costs us 1800 Dhs, tickets charges and hotel accommodation to take the exam an in many occasions they fail. We bare the cost”
“The maximum number of trials for the exam are three, and if they fail we are unfortunate”
The challenge that was tackled by Mohammed Ben Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (2008), as well as in this research, is related to Emiratization particularly the lack of qualified local workforce in the health care field led to the heavy dependence on non-nationals. In most cases the non-nationals are more qualified so the selected hospitals prefer to hire the expat over the local employee based on skills only.
Some challenges were unique to our research findings. For example, the female UAE nationals wear the veil which conflicts with organizational policies. As a result, Emiratization efforts in the health care are challenged by this matter. In addition, as previously mentioned in the working hours theme, Emirati female candidates are repelled by the long working hours in the health sector. Moreover, Emirati workforce is more attracted to work in the governmental sector because of better packages.
“We do have instructions to nationalize medical positions, but local candidates prefer to apply for governmental hospitals due to better benefits. “
“And To attract more UAE nationals, the aptitude tests differ between the non-nationals and the UAE nationals. The test runs for 30 munities for locals while 20 for non-nationals. As well as the test is easier for locals than others”
Diversity Challenges in Selection Phase:
It was found that communication is a major challenge among all selected hospitals; the same was reflected in the studied literature review (Adler, 1986; Loden & Rosener, 1991). It was found as a common challenge during the interview time because some candidates do not speak English or if the interviewer is not bilingual.
“Because I speak only English, when I interview an Arabian candidate who doesn’t speak English, I call for a translator”
Another part of this challenge is the necessity of selecting bilingual candidates who speak both Arabic and English to communicate easily with the patients.
“All the doctors must be able to speak Arabic and English to build a trust relationship with their patients. The same situation is for the nurses as they need to understand the patient language and needs.”
Bias and stereotyping
Another challenge revealed by our research is bias and stereotyping during interviews. The HR department in one of the hospitals is made up solely of one nationality which could increase the risk of biases during interviews as the selection panel is usually a one man show.
Add Dr’s Ref about Emiratization
“The nationality of the hiring committee members generally consists of the local people of the country who are having enough knowledge about the people residing in their country so the local people are usually chosen for the selection procedure. The gender does not generally matters in this procedure as the person who is recruiting should have knowledge of their sector instead of gender which is not seen in this area. The age of the committee members are aged which have great experience in their whole life which are filled with the fully filled experiences which are bad and good every time. “
“We don’t consider this problem a major one because we do make our selections based on personal qualifications requirements.”
“I conduct all the interviews by myself.”
Background and Security Check
Two unique challenges were uncovered by this research. First, the challenge of conducting background checks overseas because of the difficulty in checking the criminal records and the possibility of falsifying these records. Second, the slow and tedious certificate attestation process. UAE Embassies around the word have a system called IntegraScreen to make sure the certificate is authentic.
As an example of the first challenge, HAAD requires the proper certificates authentication that they conduct by themselves to avoid any forged certificates.
As mentioned in the previous phase of recruitment, failure to pass the security check clearance reduces the pool of candidates in the selected hospitals.
“HAAD also requires the proper documentations; hence they run the authentication by themselves to avoid any fraud certificates.
A final challenge in this phase is linked to Emiratization as some of the selected hospitals have tailored their selection tests (i.e. English Proficiency Test) to accommodate the deficiencies in the national workforce, for example, one of the selected hospitals and in an attempt to attract more UAE nationals have created aptitude tests which differ between the non-nationals and the UAE nationals.
“We make our English Test for nationals easier to attract them as part of our Emiratization program. The test runs for 30 munities for nationals while 20 for non-nationals”
Cultural Group Dominance
The selection of the candidate is influenced by the HR department inclination towards the selection of certain nationalities like Indians and Filipinos. The selection decision is generally skewed towards candidates who fall under the interviewer nationality preference. This can partially explain the cultural group dominance. An example of this dominance, one of the selected hospitals mentioned that it has 30% of its workforce from Philippines and 20% from India. Most of them are in clerical and nursing jobs. Their majority is because they are qualified and they pass the licensing exam. Another hospital mentioned that Indians constitute almost 70% of the total workforce, in this organization all HR Department professionals are Indians.
“The diversity rate in our HR department is 0%”
Diversity Challenges in Orientation Phase:
During the orientation training some of the new comers may remain culturally rigid against the newly introduced national culture of UAE. For example, some of them may reject the idea of adhering to the dress code which is reflecting the UAE Islamic culture.
“During Ramadan Time, non Muslims are not aware about prohibition of eating publically so we tell them to go for a specific room to have their lunch.”
Limitations of the study
This research study has some limitations. Due to the lack of sufficient time and resources, the research team was not able to expand the study to other sectors and cities. Hence the study was in in a confined regional area (Abu Dhabi and Al Ain). The research team has planned to do focus group interviews with tape recordings to enable the interviewers to focus on the discussion rather than note taking, and to gather information from different perspectives. However only one or two HR personnel per hospital were available and they have all refused tape recordings. Most of the studied organizations have refused to give precise documented statistics about the level of diversity. The majority of the interviewees were from the HR’s management; hence it is likely that their answers to the challenges have a negative bias.
Implications for future research
The newly explored challenges in this research have implications for future researches. First, as this study focused only on one sector “Healthcare” and in two cities (Abu Dhabi and Al Ain), future researches can study different sectors and emirates using quantitative research methodology to study those challenges in dept in order to identify their causes and help to find solutions to them. Second, this study lacks the use of focus group interviews to gain different perspective and the interviewees were mainly from the management of the HR. Hence future research can be done by interviewing focus group members with different levels of seniority. Third, this study was done only in UAE, it can be replicated to other GCC organizations to assess the level of challenges in UAE compared to other GCC and find the gaps. The study can be further expanded to include Middle East countries to asses UAE’s challenges in a regional market.
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