Expatriate labour in Qatar: Employees or mercenaries?

by  — 15 January 2014

The State of Qatar is the envy of many countries with impressive plans for its future. Unfortunately, what the state lacks are enough qualified citizens to complete its monumental development goals, writes Robert Madronic from College of North Atlantic Qatar.

Market conditions combined with the state’s right to maintain control means that the mercenary mentality will be difficult to overcome, writes Robert Madronic, a marketing instructor from the School of Business Studies at College of the North Atlantic Qatar.‬‬

The practice of hiring expatriates is quite common and has a history dating back to the mercenaries of the Roman Empire. The challenge with mercenaries is that they are not motivated by national pride or hope for the future, but by financial gain. Thus, a mercenary will never be as effective as a committed citizen. Qatar’s expatriates don’t carry swords; but hammers and briefcases. Paid to build the country’s infrastructure and institutions, these expatriates will never become citizens and are expected to go home when the job is completed. This lack of residential and job security can create a ‘mercenary mentality’, a motivation to work only for the money. Such motivation rarely leads to long-lasting, high-quality work.

While the state has every right to protect its interests, sponsorship laws, land restrictions and nationalisation efforts arguably exacerbate the mercenary mentality by reminding employees that they are but hired hands who can be sent home at any time without sharing in fruits of their labour. 

Mercenary mentality

The mercenary mentality can create numerous problems for a firm. First, such employees are more likely to leave when offered more money, forcing companies to spend more on hiring. Another problem is that employees may resist adapting to the internal culture of a firm. Change is difficult in the best of times; employees may not bother if they may be gone in six months. This reluctance limits group synergy and makes interpersonal conflict more common. Another issue that is both a cause and a result of the mercenary mentality is the pay differences between workers from different countries. Qatari citizens and Western workers may be able to command higher salaries than staff from parts of Asia, creating differing expectations for quality and quantity of work. If you were paid half as much as your coworker for the same job, would you put in the same effort?

Long-term vision

Unfortunately, market conditions as well as the state’s right to maintain control means that the mercenary mentality will be difficult to overcome. As an employer, however, you can take some steps to lessen its effects. First, you can make sure you hire the right people. Some view a short-term position as an opportunity to gain valuable experience in an international setting, but want to leave after a brief stint. They are in it for the experience, not the money.

Qatari citizens and Western workers are able to command higher salaries than staff from parts of Asia, creating differing expectations for quality and quantity of work.

International firms, offering short-term transfers to the region so that employees know they still have a position at home, eliminate uncertainty and lessen the focus on salary. Longer-term contracts rather than successive short-term contracts can also reduce employee stress. For new hires, offer long-term contracts to create a sense of permanency. How much effort and dedication will you get from someone with a series of one-year contracts rather than a five-year contract?

Since the main facet of the mentality is the profit motive, offer your staff more than just a paycheck. This begins with benefits such as reasonable housing, recreation, schooling and travel allowances to a standard befitting the level of staff. You must also ensure that your firm takes care of the details. Leaving these issues to newly arrived staff leads to frustration, feelings of betrayal and the desire to find a better employer. We have all heard stories of people arriving to find that there are no places in any schools, their housing was not as promised and the pool has not worked for months. Of course these employees leave for more money, wouldn’t you?

Not all of history’s mercenaries would fight for the highest bidder. Some groups and leaders were so well respected that they inspired exceptional contributions from their mercenaries with average pay.

Imagine how successful you will be with employees like that.

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