The Kuwait Experience – Is It Still Early to Allow Employees to Work From Home? (Part 2)


Reading Time: 
5 min
Brief: 
  • When comparing the United States and the Arab world, there are significant differences in culture leading to different interpretation of HR priorities.
  • Americans rank individualism versus collective concern for the group much higher than the Arab world. The Arab World tends to maintain a strong commitment to the “group” (family, work, societal, etc.) to which they belong.
  • More emphasis on active learning, critical thinking, personal responsibility and recognition of women’s abilities, needs to occur before work at home policies can and should be successfully implemented.

In the previous article, I discussed the obstacles that crystalize my view that work-from-home policies should not yet be adopted in the Middle East unless a radical change to the general mindset is achieved. Culture affects many causal relationships. Hofstede’s (2001) work continues to be used as the basis for many intercultural studies. His four original cultural dimensions, identified in 1980, are:

  • Achievement versus Nurturance orientation – the degree that people value assertiveness, competitiveness and materialism (achievement) versus relationships and well-being of others (nurturing).
  • Power distance – the degree that people accept an unequal distribution of power in society.
  • Individualism versus collective concern for groups – the degree that people value independence and personal uniqueness.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance – the degree that people tolerate ambiguity (low) or feel threatened by uncertainty (high uncertainty avoidance).

When comparing the United States and the Arab world, Hofstede (2001) found significant differences in culture according to his dimensions. Americans rank Achievement higher (62 out of 100) on Hofstede’s Achievement versus Nurturance scale than the Arab World (52 out of 100). Americans view achievement more favorably than nurturance. Americans rank Power Distance low (40 out of 100) while the Arab World ranks Power Distance much higher (80 out of 100).

  • In the Arab World this indicates inequality of power and privilege within the society and the relative acceptance of this situation.
  • Americans rank individualism versus collective concern for the group much higher (91 out of 100) than the Arab world (38 out of 100). The world average is 64.
  • The Arab World tends to maintain a strong commitment to the “group” (family, work, societal, etc.) to which they belong. Americans rank Uncertainty Avoidance much lower (46 out of 100) than the Arab World (68 out of 100). This high score in the Arab World manifests itself in strict rules and policies aimed at controlling the unpredictable.

As a new Western professor teaching my first MBA class in Kuwait, I faced the following surprising event. The students were expected (and the syllabus had been reviewed thoroughly in class) to read assigned materials in advance of coming to class. But at a subsequent class, the instructor and students came to a standstill because no student had come to class prepared. The students stated, and some very adamantly, that they preferred listening to lectures (which summarized the reading for them) rather than reading assigned materials on their own in preparation for active discussion. Ultimately, I developed a compromise (which I did not need to do in my German and Chinese MBA teaching experiences) of briefly summarizing the reading, clarifying material and then using exercises and class discussion.

  • Another impediment to active engagement is the risk of “losing face” that may dissuade the Kuwaiti student from actively participating. One student complained to the Dean because I had called on her in class to share her opinion regarding the material from the text. She had never encountered this in a class before and it made her highly uncomfortable. I believe this cultural undercurrent may impact some individuals to not contribute independently from fear of having errors exposed, and would not be aided by working independently at home.
  • I used case studies to elicit student engagement, recognizing that active learning moves students from surface learning to deeper analysis and reflection. In Western classes, students often require only a minimal explanation of how to analyze a case, but I discovered it took much more time to explain the purpose and method to approach cases. Case analysis was a new form of learning for many students and seemed highly difficult for many to understand the need, as well as methods/abilities, to examine ideas and beliefs critically.
  • In one class of 19 senior undergraduate business students we were discussing critical thinking. They asked for an example. I asked the class if they believed in the “evil eye”. I was very surprised that it was a unanimous response in support of this belief and with many examples!
  • The use of team-based exercises can be problematic. The high scores in Kuwait for concern for the collective action of the group based on Hofstede’s “individualism versus collective concern for the group” scale often translates to one student doing all the work for the team and the others not learning anything from the exercise. Whereas in the West, the student doing all the work may complain and force the others to do some work, Kuwaiti students tend to simply accept the situation, even though they may complain to the instructor.

It is for these reasons that I believe, at least in Kuwait, that more emphasis on active learning, critical thinking, personal responsibility and recognition of women’s abilities, needs to occur before work at home policies can and should be successfully implemented.

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