Survey reveals mixed attitudes to life in the Middle East

Two-thirds of UK firms working in the Middle East have been asked to cut their fees, a Building poll has found. We surveyed our readers in region and 65.1% told us clients had sought to renegotiate prices with them in the past three months.

The survey, which had over 150 respondents, also found that 68.7% of British firm in the Middle East had made redundancies in the UAE.

Many firms are relocating staff from the UAE to other countries in the Gulf. Qatar emerged as the most popular location, with 29.4% saying their firm had moved staff to the country following problems in the UAE. Saudi Arabia came second, with 25.8%, followed by Oman with 19%, Bahrain with 16.9% and Kuwait with 8.8%.

We asked people whether they would accept a job that meant living in Saudi Arabia and 41% said no, 31.7% said yes and the rest were unsure. But whether they go to Saudi or not, 50% said they did not wish to return to the UK this year.

Two thirds said they thought Dubai’s property market would take at least a year to recover from the present slump, with 40% saying it would take two years and 20% giving it a depressing five years.

Seventeen per cent of respondents said they earned twice as much as they would in the same role in the UK, and a quarter earned 50% more. In total 57% thought working in the Middle East had been good for their career.

But when asked how they felt about life in the Middle East, people were luke warm, with 53.3% agreeing that “it’s okay but I’m mostly here for the money”. Some 38.3% said they were loving living there, while 8.3% agreed with the statement “it’s unbearable and I can’t wait to get home”.

Some respondents appeared to have quite negative attitudes to the region. One said: “There is a big illusion that people here know how to run a business like what we are used to back home, they don’t. The place is full of people who would never make it anywhere else in the world and can hide out here making silly money but not actually making things better here and because Dubai is such a transient place, if they get into trouble they just leave or move on. There is little integrity in business and in design.”

Another said: “The extreme stress of expansion at an alarming pace followed by the sudden decline” made “work life balance extremely difficult to manage”.

There were criticisms of the business culture, such as, “the British company I work for is set up like it would have been 20 years ago in the UK with very little communication to its employees particularly in recent downturn times”. Another respondent said: “Worst has been the extremely aggressive management style I have encountered within my company. Is seems some Western expats see fit to adopt a bully style in Middle East they would not get away with at home.”

One respondent said: “I feel the worst thing about working in the Middle East is the lack of trust between parties involved in the project. There have been several occasions where I could have sold equipment that we no longer have any use for, only to be told by the client that they don't want to sell. I can see three large pieces of plant from my window rusting away on the beach because the client wouldn't sell because of fear he was being ripped off!!”

Others were more upbeat. One said the best things about being there were: “The weather and the projects that I'm involved in. I'll probably never get to work on such iconic buildings again. Also the value of the buildings is something that I'll never be involved with the likes again.”

Another said: “Working in UAE was a challenge to my profession, it really helped a lot in improving my skills and provided an opportunity to learn lot quicker than I would have due to surge in the construction industry and I had opportunity to get involved in various types of construction works which in normal instance this was not possible.”

The weather divided people. Common types of comments included both “the worst thing is eight months a year of hellish heat” and “I love all the sunshine”.

Out of the respondents, 61% were in Dubai, 24% in Abu Dhabi, 5.6% in Qatar and the rest were split between Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. More than 40% were aged between 26 and 35, and 85% were male.