Equity Perception and Communication Among Arab Expatriate Professionals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The research aims to study how the communication context within the Arab cultures influences the employees’ perception of equity and reaction to inequity. Specifically, the study explores how employees from Arab cultural backgrounds communicate with each other within the Saudi working context; and how they collect, interpret and use the different contextual information – from the contexts in which they live and work – in order to make judgements about issues related to the perception of equity and reaction to inequity. In order to study the research topic, a conceptual framework is developed to reconcile between Equity Theory, Social Comparison Theory and Hall’s Context Model; and as a base serving the process of designing/choosing the methods of collecting and analysing the data. Three main research questions are developed which are about (i) how the communication context is related to employees’ willingness and ability to react to inequity (ii) how the communication context shapes the nature of inequity reactions executed by employees and (iii) how the communication context is related to the way equity is perceived among employees. A modified version of critical realism is adopted to focus on exploring the mechanisms, within the communication context, which influence the perception of equity and reaction to inequity. A combination of retroduction and abduction is developed in a sense that retroduction is used to direct the research toward exploring the structure and mechanisms within the research setting, while abduction is used to draw conclusions about how the phenomena studied in the research are evolving by the structure and mechanisms. A mixed methods approach is adopted in the research. The research includes data from thirty-five semi-structured interviews which are conducted in mainly three Saudi private-sector organisations located in Jeddah with twenty-nine male employees and six male managers of six different Arab nationalities. Template analysis is used to analyse the qualitative interview transcripts and field notes, while cluster analysis is used to group the research participants based on their quantitative responses. The research finds that there are no clear-cut areas separating the activities linked to the perception of equity and reaction to inequity. I also conclude that the perception of equity norms and equity comparison components can sometimes be separate activities. Some factors such as the religious interpretation, face-saving, and contextual norms and powers influence the employees’ willingness to react to inequity by altering the way in which those employees perceive equity norms. Here, unwillingness decisions are often made not as a result of personal conviction but as a compromise based on the personal evaluation of the surrounding context, realising the inability of the self to react to such situations in the first place. Thus, it can be concluded that inability to react to inequity can reduce the employees’ willingness to react against under-rewarded situations. The process of perceiving equity comparison components is found to be related to the type of reaction adopted to re-establish the equity; this relationship is represented by groups affiliated by a hidden factor or factors, which is more influential than the ethnicity/nationality of the group’s members. The research makes a methodological contribution to knowledge by suggesting a new approach to study human relations through the communication context; a conceptual contribution by combining the concepts of equity perception, social comparison and communication context in one conceptual framework; and an empirical contribution by providing a fresh insight to contextual themes in the Saudi working environment.