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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Awareness required to improve multicultural environment in UAE workplace

Nasif Kayed, the managing director of The Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding, said it is important for prospective workers to learn about the UAE before they move here.
ABU DHABI // Employers need to do more to ensure their multinational workforces all get along, say cultural experts.

The call comes as a number of Muslim workers have complained that their expat colleagues are often insensitive to their beliefs.

Among the complaints noted were that non-Muslims did not respect them while they were fasting during Ramadan and did not allow them time to pray.

Sara, a 23-year-old Lebanese who works in a government organisation, said during the recent holy month she felt uncomfortable at the actions of some Western colleagues.

"I was first asked if I drink [alcohol], then my colleagues started offering me coffee [while fasting], and even though I refused, they would still drink in front of me. But that gives me extra credit during the holy month," she said.

"I feel like there is no respect for being an Arab or a Muslim."

She felt that HR departments should do more to counter the problem by making workers from overseas aware of what was acceptable in the UAE.

She said certain issues should not be discussed in the workplace.

"I feel like religion and politics should not be discussed ... especially during working hours when we should focus on our jobs."

Amal, 25, who works in event planning for as government department, said she understood the need for her colleagues to ask her about heritage and religion. But occasionally the questions seemed disrespectful, she said.

"I understand sometimes it's uncomfortable for others to understand my lifestyle or way of thinking, but I expect them to accept me the way I am," she said. "More importantly, I'm expecting them to respect me the way I accept and respect others of all nationalities, cultures and religions," she said.

Amal started her job in January, but said there were several issues she was unhappy with.

"In working hours, I take about two to three breaks to pray. But sometimes I have a big workload and I am unable to pray on time, which upsets me," she said. Despite her line manager and the HR department promising to handle it, Amal's issues remain unresolved.

The Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding was founded to help expats learn about and respect Emirati culture.

The managing director of the non-profit organisation, Nasif Kayed, said it is important for prospective workers to learn about the UAE before they move here.

"What people should do is they should be willing and able to learn about other people, but they should also know about themselves. What we teach [at the centre] is you should learn about you and learn about others to fund a happy medium to communicate," he said.

He said a positive attitude about differences between cultures was essential, as was a belief that no nationality is "superior" to any other.

Most importantly, he said one should interact with Emiratis as much as possible.

"Humble yourself and get to meet [other Emiratis] first hand. Sit in a majlis, eat good food, and ask questions," he said.

He also suggested that companies with multinational workforces should organise activity days where staff can socialise.

Under UAE labour laws, an employer must ensure a protective environment for all employees.

Human resource departments are required to orient employees on dress code and behaviour.

The companies must also have a code of conduct, where discrimination is not allowed.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae

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