Working in Saudi Arabia can be a real experience, that is about as polite as I can be about what you are likely to experience. I will start by relating what it is like to work within various companies in both the private sector and the government. I spent my first year in Saudi Arabia working as a business consultant and trainer so I had many opportunities to visit a wide variety of companies across KSA. After that I will relate some tales given to me by various people who have worked in domestic situations rather than within companies.
Why Work in Saudi Arabia
Firstly the very good side of working in Saudi Arabia; MONEY, most professional roles pay very well by western standards, they also include your accommodation costs, flights and often other perks. If you bring your family you will also be paid their flights, accommodation and schooling. Wages not only are higher than most western wages but you also pay NO TAX as long as you meet the rules of your home country. Be careful as for instance you have to not be in the UK for so many days in a tax year or you will be liable for taxation, so if you start your job in July you may be liable for the remainder of that tax year. The other consideration is the cost of living in Saudi Arabia, you will be filling the tank on your car for what you would pay for a gallon of fuel back home, your monthly expenses will be considerably less than you would expect, I struggled to spend 3000 to 4000 SAR per month and I ate out regularly and bought whatever I wanted.
This means that within a few years you can save a sizable nest egg, often enough for a good down payment on a new home or even enough to purchase a home outright.
What is it Like Working in Saudi Arabia
I was hired initially as a Business consultant in Saudi so the stories I will relate will be based on my findings within the group that hired me for their consultancy, companies that I visited and worked for in both the private and government sector.
I ran many training courses within the kingdom both within companies and in various hotels, these courses were occasionally attended by Saudis, however more often than not the attendees would be only expats even if there were Saudis listed to attend. If Saudis did attend my standing instruction was to never ask them questions or to complain if they were late back from breaks etc. Saudis automatically passed every course even if they failed to show their face again after the first five minutes! The only exception to this was the ISO Lead Auditor course which has an exam at the end, I never passed a single Saudi for this course; even when I ran a course for the supplier quality assurance personnel of a large well known Saudi corporation and these guys were meant to be the top in their field just lacking a qualification on paper!
The other thing to consider is how Saudis treat expats, at times they can be down right abusive, especially towards races that they consider to be inferior. There is a very definite pecking order in KSA, if you look western you will probably be treated (to your face) with respect, if however you look Indian or Asian you will likely be treated as if you were the tea boy or a driver even if you hold a senior position. Some Saudis will shout at these “inferiors” and I have even seen them strike out at them; more than once I have seen Saudi men hit maids and drivers in public.
Saudi Work Ethic
I did some work for a fellow Brit who was in a senior position for a large manufacturing company, most of his management were Saudis and he did not have one good word to say about them. His main complaint was that they turned up usually after 10am, went to their offices and started playing computer games or watching TV, most would then leave for the day at lunchtime. Occasionally one would venture out of their office to attend a meeting where they would effectively ruin the meeting in some way or another. He had other Saudis on his books who did not attend at all, only turning up once per month to collect their pay slip! The Human resources department was staffed by Saudis (only Saudis can work in HR now) who had once been the security personnel for the site and had zero experience or qualifications to be in HR.
Most companies prefer not to hire Saudis for any position, however the government is trying to force the high level of Saudi unemployment down through making many positions only open to Saudi Nationals, however many companies just hire expats for other positions and then employ them to do the job they wanted them to do despite the visa stating that their job title is something unrelated. The HR manager in one company was from Jordan, he was reported and his deputy who was a Saudi had to be promoted to the position!
There has been much discussion in the press and in various forums about making more positions Saudi only and very little complementary mentioned about the Saudi work ethic or lack of it! This is not an exaggeration, some Saudis are hard working but the Majority (please note the capital letter) are not! Most will work harder at avoiding work than do it, within my last role I tried to get some documents signed, the person responsible always being too busy for several weeks delaying many other things. Whenever I saw him he was drinking coffee or having a cigarette, if he was in the office at all. In desperation I cornered him in a meeting room and sat in the doorway and refused to move until he would sign the documents – it took him less than 5 minutes to complete the task and he then spent hours complaining about me to everyone who would listen. I had to sit in peoples offices several times and refuse to leave to get signatures and decisions made, I did not make any friends doing this but if ever any job had to be done quickly it was always given to me even if it were not part of my responsibility.
I spent some time working within one of the government departments, they had hired another set of consultants to do an analysis of the labor efficiencies of their staff. They measured the output of various nationalities working within their area to see where they could make improvements and decide which nationalities were the best to hire. I was shown the results of the study which have since been buried very deeply; one enterprising dutch guy decided to have the Filipino man as being the standard against which the other nationalities were measured, the comparison between Filipino and Saudi was a real eye opener. They calculated how many Saudis would be required to produce the same amount of work as one Filipino, it was not 5, nor 10, it was over 100! The consultants were fired and made to leave the country and the report shredded, except of course for the copies that many of the expats had managed to keep.
Expat Workers in Saudi Arabia
Most Saudi companies rely very heavily on their expat work force to survive, but many of these expats (especially labor on the factory floor)are hardly motivated to work at their best ability due to poor treatment and low wages. Whilst we in the west may praise the high wages offered the lower end of the scale have wages set against what they would be able to earn in their home country so you will often find people being employed for less than 1000 SAR which is a little over $250 for a full months work, which is great for a worker in the Philippines or India but not so great if they also have to survive in KSA. These low wages also act as a huge incentive to many companies to not want to hire local Saudi labor who will want far higher wages.
After reading this you may be asking yourself “why work in Saudi Arabia?” Follow the link and I will explain the main reasons for working in this at time inhospitable country.