Gamification and Cross-Cultural Communication in Dubai

Abstract

The workforce in the UAE is culturally diverse as over 20% of employees (referred to as expatriates) come from different countries. Importantly, expatriates tend to occupy managerial posts, which makes communication within organizations quite complex. Training aimed at raising cultural awareness has become common, but such training strategies as the use of games (or gamification) are still rarely employed in Emirati organizations. At that, gamification has proved to be an effective tool in other countries, which makes it an attractive method to employ in the context of the UAE.

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This study focuses on the use of gamification in the Emirati private sector that was chosen as this sector is developing at a high pace and is considered to be one of the priorities since it is associated with the growth of the country’s economy. The participants of this study were 53 people (Emirati nationals and expatriates) working for privately-owned companies located in Dubai. The age of the participants ranged from 22 to 40 years old (mean age was 31). The majority of the participants were males (62%), but this is typical of the Emirati workforce.

It is found that employees have overall positive views on gamification as they believe it positively affects the development of cross-cultural communication within the organization. Employees also believe that gamification has a positive impact on their personal and the organization’s performance. At that, the employees reveal a significant degree of uncertainty, which signifies the lack of experience and knowledge as regards the use of games as a training method. It is concluded that gamification has a positive influence on cross-cultural communication and contributes to the development of organizations. Implications for future research are also provided.

Introduction

Background Information

The UAE is one of the fastest growing economies in the Gulf region. One of the factors contributing to this success is innovation that is often achieved through the use of foreign labor force (Matherly & Hodgson, 2014). Expatriates form a significant portion of the labor forces in the Gulf States. The Emirati nationals rate is around 80%, which is a regarded appropriate for the development of the country since the excessive reliance on the foreign workforce may undermine the development of the country.

At that, Matherly and Hodgson (2014) claim that the ratio of expatriates and nationals can change as only 43% of the Emirati nationals employed are under 24 years old. This trend unveils the persistent need to develop proper cross-cultural communications for Emirati companies as nationals and expatriates have to collaborate effectively to achieve organizational goals.

Internal communication has a considerable impact on the work environment as well as the performance of employees and the entire company. Linke and Zerfass (2011) stress that effective internal communication positively affects the employees’ motivation and performance. Clearly, cross-cultural communication is a key component of the internal communication in organizations with a diverse workforce. It is especially important for Emirati companies where the number of expatriates is steadily increasing irrespective of the Emiratization policies (Matherly & Hodgson, 2014). Rana (2013) states that Emirati companies are now investing into the development of proper strategies of internal and cross-cultural communication.

Gamification is one of the techniques used to improve internal communication. It implies the utilization of “the mechanisms of gaming to non-game activities to change people’s behavior” (Marston & Hall, 2015). The use of games is specifically aimed at enhancing the employees’ motivation and engagement as well as improving their performance. Thottathil (2013) states that Emirati organizations have already acknowledged the benefits of the use of games as applied to teamwork, motivation, internal communication, training and performance management. However, many organizations in the private sectors still try to resort to more formal types of training.

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Key Concepts

Prior to addressing the problem statement, it is important to identify a number of key concepts that will be employed in this study. Internal communication implies the exchange of ideas and information within an organization (Linke & Zerfass, 2011). This study will concentrate on the exchange between Emirati nationals, citizens of the UAE, and expatriates, foreign employees who are often hired to achieve particular organizational goals. This interaction is referred to as the cross-cultural communication as people pertaining to different cultural groups exchange ideas and information.

When addressing issues concerning internal communication, it is essential to utilize the concept of the organizational culture, which is defined as a set of “primary artifacts, values, and assumptions” common for all the employees within an organization (Keyton, 2011). This study focuses on the use of gamification in the Emirati context. As has been mentioned above, gamification is the process of using games in the work environment to achieve specific goals. An example of the use of games is the use of race in one of the companies (Al-Khouri, 2014). Employees were invited to choose a car in a race that revealed the employees progress. The more customer’s applications employees audited, the farther their car was in the race. Importantly, the employees could trace each other’s performance, which was a significant motivational factor.

Problem Statement and Research Questions

One of the primary problems existing among Emirati companies operating in the private sector is that the HR specialists fail to introduce proper training strategies to improve the internal communication. The lack of attention to cross-cultural communication is a central contributing factor to the inefficiency of the training provided. Al-Khouri (2014) stresses that Emirati HR specialists often employ some formal training methods when it comes to cross-cultural communication although they are aware of the benefits of gamification. This training strategy is often used to enhance the adherence to the organizational culture or employees’ motivation. This study will focus on such concepts as gamification and cross-cultural communication.

Therefore, this study will address the following research questions:

  • RQ1: How does gamification lead to the improvement of the cross-cultural communication between Emirati nationals and expatriates in Dubai’s private sector companies?
  • RQ2: What positive changes in the employees’ performance, motivation and satisfaction are associated with the use of gamification in cross-cultural communication training in Dubai’s private sector companies?

Theoretical Framework

Hofstede’s Culture Dimensions

It is important to use the relevant theoretical framework to address the research question. The focus is made on the cross-cultural communication. Clearly, understanding a culture can help people better understand each other in the work environment. Therefore, the use of Hofstede’s model is beneficial for reaching the study’s goals. This theory is instrumental in explaining people’s choices and motivations in the cross-cultural communication as people’s values and expectations are revealed.

According to Hofstede (2011), cultures can be analyzed within six dimensions: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, masculinity / femininity, long- / short-term orientation, indulgence / restraint. The use of these dimensions will also help in explaining employees’ motivation to participate in the training associated with the use of games. It can be predicted that people pertaining to different cultures will have different attitudes towards the use of games as a training tool and, hence, will be motivated differently.

Such dimensions as power distance, uncertainty avoidance, indulgence / restraint, long- / short-term orientation should receive the most of attention as these aspects are closely associated with the use of games as a supplementary training strategy. It is necessary to briefly consider the dimensions that will be used for the analysis of employees’ views on the efficiency of gamification.

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Power Distance

Power distance is the degree to which people “accept and expect” unequal distribution of power (Hofstede, 2011). Small power distance is a characteristic feature of societies where people believe that power should be distributed equally, whereas large power distance is a peculiarity of countries where people accept unequal distribution of power. The dimension of uncertainty avoidance reveals a society’s “tolerance for ambiguity” (Hofstede, 2011). Strong uncertainty avoidance is manifested in people’s reliance on rules and order, clarity, and established structures. Societies characterized by weak uncertainty avoidance dislike rules and rigid structures.

Individualism and Collectivism

Individualism and collectivism display the way individuals are integrated into various groups. In individualist societies, individuals value the right to express ideas and to have privacy. Importantly, the goal is regarded as more important than relationships. In collectivist societies, the opinion of the group matters while individuals’ opinions are often irrelevant (Hofstede, 2011). People are seen as in-group or out-group individuals, and the relationships are often more important than the goals and tasks.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

Masculinity vs. femininity implies the distribution of female and male values. In societies characterized by a significant level of femininity, people value empathy, compassion, work and family balance, stronger female participation in the social life. In societies with a higher level of masculinity, people believe that work is more important than the family, males are more active socially while females are assigned to domestic tasks, assertive behaviors prevail.

Long- and Short-Term Orientation

Long- and short-term orientation unveils people’s attitude towards the future and the past. In short-term oriented societies, traditions are essential, and people believe that the most important events already took place or can take place at present. Stability is one of the most valued features of an individual. In the long-term oriented societies, people believe that the most important events will take place in the future and the present as well as the past are less relevant. Traditions are regarded as appropriate for changes. Flexibility and adjustability are seen as important features of a person.

Indulgence / Restraint

The final dimension identified is indulgence / restraint that is associated with such concepts as happiness and satisfaction. Thus, societies characterized by a high level of indulgence value personal freedom and leisure. The society “allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun” (Hofstede, 2011). Restraint is a characteristic feature of societies where needs are regulated through “strict social norms” (Hofstede, 2011).

Social Change

This study will also be grounded on the theory of social change. According to this theory, people’s decisions and behavioral patterns depend on their evaluation of the costs and benefits (Bratianu, 2015). Thus, individuals consider their potential gains and losses when making any decisions. When it comes to any training, it is vital to apply the theory of social change as it helps predict people’s motivation and engagement in various activities.

When employees acknowledge the benefits of gamification, they are more likely to be active and eager to get engaged. In terms of the theory of social change, it is possible to predict that the employees will be motivated to play games as the costs of the activity are insignificant as games require only basic skills and comparatively little time. At the same time, they are associated with such gains as improved performance, better work environment, and even larger salaries, which are major benefits of training.

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Literature Review

Cross-Cultural Communication

It is necessary to note that the issues associated with the cross-cultural communication (especially in the Gulf countries) have received significant attention. Irimiaş (2011) unveils several peculiarities of cross-cultural communication. The researcher stresses that non-verbal communication tends to play a key role in the process. Clearly, verbal strategies also require considerable attention as people pertaining to different cultures often have different approaches to the way they share information or negotiate.

For example, Americans and Germans prefer directness and debate issues openly while Arabic people use quite a hyperbolic language which is characterized by “flowery” expressions and “flattery” (Irimiaş, 2011). Irimiaş (2011) emphasizes that stereotyping, which is persistent in the majority of countries, tends to undermine the effectiveness of the cross-cultural communication. The researcher also stresses that ethnocentrism is the most potent barrier to efficient cross-cultural communication as people judge other cultures and values through the lens of their own culture, traditions and values. This approach often leads to misunderstanding and miscommunication, which negatively affects the work environment and overall performance of companies.

When it comes to the UAE, Goby and Nickerson (2015) claim that Emirati people especially those engaged in the private sector understand the importance of the foreign workforce and report their readiness to develop effective cross-cultural communication patterns.

This trend is prevalent among people with higher education while less educated people tend to remain quite hostile to expatriates. Irrespective of the Emirati employees’ attitude towards foreign workforce, there is a considerable lack of specific skills that could improve the cross-cultural communication within organizations. Goby and Nickerson (2015) add that the country’s policies concerning the Emiratization also contribute to the hostility between people of different cultural backgrounds.

Reducing quotas companies face the challenge of expatriates’ hostility and reluctance to communicate and share information with locals. These instances also contribute to the development of stereotypes and misconceptions. Goby and Nickerson (2015) implemented a survey in several Emirati companies and found that more than 60% of local employees (who participated in the study) preferred interacting with locals as they shared a similar cultural background.

This is an example of ethnocentrism as people try to avoid communicating with out-group individuals. Emirati people feel the barriers to cross-cultural communication that are rooted in cultural differences. It is essential to stress that linguistic barriers are almost non-existent in the UAE as Emirati graduates have extensive exposure to the English language, so they are ready to communicate in English.

Efficient cross-cultural communication is also seen as the background of effective leadership. Kamali, Jayashree, and Lindsay (2015) claim that the development of leadership incorporates the focus on cultural dimensions of the cultures involved. The researchers note that Emirati managers work for multinationals have to develop their leadership skills taking into account cultural peculiarities of employees as well as their supervisors.

More so, Kamali et al. (2015) also stress that Emirati employees (leaders as well as team members and individual employees) lack the necessary skills to develop proper cross-cultural communication patterns, which undermines the leadership models employed. As has been mentioned above, ethnocentrism is one of the most serious issues. Leaders develop their leadership models based on their cultural background, and they expect that other people irrespective of their ethnicity will respond similarly to the strategies utilized. However, leadership methods that are effective in particular cultural contexts often fail due to the difference in values in another cultural context.

Willemyns, Hosie, and Lehaney (2011) also focus on the cross-cultural communication between Emirati employees and western expatriates. The researchers identify two major patterns and note that Emirati people tend to regard western individuals as out-group members due to cultural differences between the local and western people. Clearly, many Emirati employees try to avoid interacting with expatriates.

At that, when Emirati individuals had closer relationships with western employees, they saw them as in-group members. These closer ties developed during interaction and collaboration in the working places. Willemyns et al. (2011) note that the organizational culture and the creation of shared identity contribute to the inclusive interaction. The shared identity is referred as a set of values based on the organizational culture rather than ethnicity.

These findings resonate with Hofstede’s model and unveil the barriers to effective cross-cultural communication. Emirati people, being representatives of the collectivist society, divide people into in- and out-group individuals whereas westerns are focused on the tasks and organizational goals. This difference in values leads to the lack of understanding and deteriorates the work environment.

Cross-Cultural Communication and Hofstede’s Dimensions

Modern researchers often consider cross-cultural communication development in the context of the cultural dimensions. Hofstede developed a six-dimension model that unveils peculiarities of different nationalities that are relevant in the work environment (Hofstede, 2011). These dimensions focus on such aspects as power distribution, assertiveness, and empathy, attitude towards uncertainty, focus on personal or groups’ goals.

The dimensions are briefly considered above. Importantly, Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov (2010) claim that cultural values are deeply rooted in the way people brought up as well as their identity and even place they live in. These values have quite a specific effect on their behavior including their conduct in the work environment. These cultural differences bring barriers to interpersonal and intra-organizational communication, which undermines the development of organizations and their competitiveness. This approach is also instrumental in developing the most efficient training strategies that will make employees motivated, committed and more skillful.

Hofstede’s dimensions have acquired significant attention and are often applied when addressing issues associated with the internal communication. Kamali et al. (2015) analyze the peculiarities of the UAE in terms of Hofstede’s model and state that the Emirati society has high scores in such dimensions as power distance, uncertainty avoidance, collectivism, and masculinity. The researchers evaluate some leadership development models shaped in terms of the Emirati cultural peculiarities. Managers who take up responsibilities and often become leaders of the group stress that communication is essential. However, they often fail to develop proper communication strategies.

Thus, western managers often focus on goals, which are less relevant in such high-context societies as the UAE (Kamali et al., 2015). Emirati people value interpersonal relationships and connectedness while these aspects are often neglected by western expatriates. Emirati employees also value quite a rigid hierarchy, and the issues of authority are quite essential. At the same time, Western managers often try to develop less hierarchical divisions within the organization and departments.

Clearly, such different approaches to essential issues (associated with power distribution, authority, and communication) negatively affect the work environment and employees’ motivation and performance. Kamali et al. (2015) emphasize that managers should pay more attention to cultural dimensions and shape their leadership approaches accordingly, which will improve the employees’ and the overall organization’s performance.

Cultural differences are regarded as significant barriers to cross-cultural communication. Kawar (2012) provides a brief analysis of these barriers in terms of the cultural dimensions. The researcher concentrates on such dimensions as power distance, collectivism / individualism, uncertainty avoidance and masculinity / femininity. Notably, the author pays quite a significant attention to space and the way people of different cultures perceive it.

The author stresses that managers should develop proper cultural intelligence, which implies the awareness of the cultural peculiarities and ability to use them when developing communication patterns. Kawar (2012) also identifies major areas employees should take into account. These aspects include time focus (polychromic / monochromic), time orientation (past / present / future), power (equality / hierarchy), competitiveness, activity (being / doing), space (public / private), communication (high-context / low-context), and structure (collectivism / individualism).

Kawar (2012) identifies the following areas within the scope of cultural intelligence: linguistic, spatial, intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. In the Emirati context, linguistic intelligence is achieved through education as local employees are fluent in English. Spatial intelligence is associated with the use of space during discussions and meetings. Intrapersonal communication involves “awareness of one’s own cultural style in order to make adjustments to international counterparts” (Kawar, 2012).

Interpersonal intelligence is referred to as the ability to comprehend people’s motivations. The communication strategies should be aligned with the cultural peculiarities of the stakeholders involved. Those who have the cultural intelligence are often capable of developing appropriate cross-cultural communication channels. Kawar (2012) also states that many organizations tend to have some status quo when it comes to cross-cultural communication. Managers should accept the status quo to form appropriate communication patterns. Clearly, effective patterns positively affect the work environment while inefficient communication deteriorates people’s motivation and performance.

Biatas (2009) also analyzes effective communication strategies employed in multinationals. The author concentrates on the power distance dimension. Biatas (2009) claims that there are significant differences between societies in the so-called western world. Thus, French and Swedish people have different values as related to power distribution. Thus, Swedish people prefer more egalitarian relations while French employees value strict hierarchies.

Furthermore, French supervisors are mainly reluctant to empower employees and employees are less likely to question managers’ decisions. Swedish employees do not like rigid hierarchies and value equality in power distribution, which translates in the empowerment of team members. These findings are of paramount importance when considering cross-cultural communication in the Emirati context. It is not enough to consider cross-cultural communication between Emirati people and Western employees.

It can be more effective to consider each nationality separately to develop the most efficient communication patterns as well as organizational culture. This approach is especially true for multinationals (with headquarters in particular countries) operating in the UAE.

Apart from purely interpersonal and intra-organizational issues, researchers also stress the influence of particular communication tools used. Media are now playing a significant role in the development of proper communication patterns. Thus, Toprak and Genc-Kumtepe (2014) note that email is an effective and sometimes preferred type of communication in multinationals. It is stressed that face-to-face discussions are often less effective due to the existence of stereotypes and miscommunication as well as the misunderstanding among the stakeholders. The researchers evaluated the way representatives of some cultural groups participate in international projects.

Toprak and Genc-Kumtepe (2014) focused on such dimensions as power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, and masculinity. Email is seen as the preferable media of communication. Employees report fewer cases of miscommunication compared to face-to-face discussions. This trend occurs as written messages are quite short and precise with no additional cues that appear during face-to-face communication (including but not confined to non-verbal cues and linguistic issues).

Clearly, media play an important role in the development of cross-cultural communication, and, hence, media should be carefully chosen when it comes to training aimed at the development of cross-cultural communication.

Gamification and Cross-Cultural Communication

As has been mentioned above gamification is regarded as one of the most effective ways to develop employees’ motivation and certain skills. Richter, Raban, and Rafaeli (2014) claim that gamification can be considered in terms of various theoretical frameworks depending on the focus of the analysis. Richter et al. (2014) argue that application of theories is crucial for the understanding of the ways gamification can improve employees’ motivation and performance.

Theories are instrumental when identifying the most appropriate features games should have in this or that context. The researchers provide some frameworks for applying several theories to the use of games in the commercial environment. Richter et al. (2014) emphasize the importance of rewards and scoring systems that help employees to remain motivated and engaged. Importantly, the researchers note that some games and scoring systems may have an opposite effect and lead to the employees’ fatigue. Gamification increases employees’ involvement and motivation as such needs as self-actualization, self-esteem and belonging are satisfied. The study unveils some pitfalls of the use of games in the work environment.

Gamification can also positively affect the development (as well as change) of the organizational culture. This tool is instrumental in the improvement of knowledge sharing within the organization (Wellington, 2014). It has been acknowledged that effective knowledge sharing practices contribute to the development and maintenance of organizational culture. Some games are used to introduce some features of the organization’s culture to employees.

However, games can also facilitate the development of particular beliefs and attitudes related to the work environment. In this way, games can help employees develop common values consistent with the organizational goals, which is essential for proper development of the company. It is noteworthy that little attention is paid to the use of gamification in the training associated with cross-cultural development. For instance, Al-Khouri (2014) mentions the benefits of gamification for internal communication, but the author still focuses on knowledge sharing rather than communication.

When it comes to cross-cultural communication, other training strategies are utilized. Apart from formal training tools, researchers employ numerous less conventional methods. For example, Briam (2010) claims that watching specific movies can be an effective training strategy to develop cross-cultural communication. One of these movies is Outsourcing (2006), and Briam (2010) notes that watching and discussing it helps people understand cultures, as well as cross-cultural communication, better.

The researcher also identifies a number of features of a successful film for such purposes. Thus, it should demonstrate concepts, “avoid simplistic cultural caricatures,” have a definite connection to the business environment, have a connection with the Arabic or Emirati (as well as other) culture, “provide a cross-cultural experience,” and motivate (Briam, 2010). These findings have a critical significance for the development of training associated with the cross-cultural communication as it can help choose the most appropriate training methods.

The developers of games and employees responsible for choosing the gaming tools for companies may benefit from these data. It is clear that games should be engaging and enjoyable, user-friendly, and they should not have simplistic and stereotypical descriptions of cultures. The provision of cross-cultural experience is also brought to the fore as each game should expose the players to considering various issues associated with the cross-cultural communication. In other words, simple learning of major features of particular cultures may have little effect as employees are likely to be unable to apply this knowledge in their job settings.

Another efficient type of media is the mobile platform. Elciyar (2015) states that the use of mobile games can be highly efficient as it is engaging and convenient. Mobile devices have become widely used in the entire world (as well as the UAE). Elciyar (2015) explores the way mobile games can be used in advertising and development of customers’ loyalty. However, the researcher’s findings can be applicable to the intra-organizational communication.

It can be beneficial in the sphere of cross-cultural communication, which is closely connected with the use of such media as mobile phones. Mobile games are very convenient to use and often require less time than games played on computers or any other devices. Mobile phones are always available. This convenience can be specifically useful in the context of the private sector companies as employees will be able to play games when commuting to work, or during their lunch-time and so on.

Existing Gaps

As seen from the literature review, cross-cultural communication is considered in detail. Many researchers utilize Hofstede’s model when analyzing peculiarities of the cross-cultural communication in companies located in Gulf countries (Kamali et al., 2015; Kawar, 2012). At the same time, it is also possible to state that researchers tend to focus on particular aspects of the issue. Power distance and uncertainty avoidance tend to be the most common dimensions discussed. Collectivism and masculinity are also considered in many studies. At the same time, it is important to take into account all the dimensions to come up with the most efficient communication strategies.

The dimensions of the long- or short-term orientation and indulgence / restraint are essential for the understanding and formation of the most efficient cross-cultural communication patterns. It is crucial to understand the way people address their goals and the way they view pleasure and relaxation. These dimensions are also important for designing (and choosing) the most appropriate game to develop internal communication between people of different cultures. The dimension of indulgence / restraint becomes a key aspect as it can help predict the employees’ motivation.

Apart from the focus on some cultural dimensions, there is also a particular division into two cultural groups. As has been mentioned above, researchers often use the division into the Arab and Western world. This division can undermine the effectiveness of the communication patterns (as well as training methods) developed. Emirati workforce is highly diverse, and people of many cultural backgrounds have to interact.

It is important to add that the existing literature lacks the focus on the private sector especially when it comes to medium size companies. Researchers often focus on multinationals or public sector organizations. At that, the private sector is developing at a high pace and is one of the most important sectors of the country’s economy.

Some researchers pay attention to these differences and try to focus on particular cultures rather than the peculiarities of the Western or Arab worlds. For example, Biatas (2009) unveils some cultural differences between different countries. This study shows that it is insufficient to focus on some common features of western and Arabic people. It can be more effective to employ Hofstede’s index of countries when developing and evaluating training programs and existing communication patterns (Hofstede, 2011). It is necessary to look into Emirati people’s values and specific nations’ values depending on expatriates’ cultural backgrounds.

There is a definite lack of studies providing the analysis of cultural dimension of particular nations in the context of the Emirati business world. Hofstede developed a model and applied it, which resulted in the creation of a specific index. It is clear that different European countries have different scores. The same trend is apparent among Arab countries. Therefore, when considering the correlation between gamification and cross-cultural communication in the Emirati context, it is essential to take into account cultural peculiarities of Emirati people. It is also important to mention particular nations rather than using the umbrella notion of the Western world.

The correlation between the organizational culture and the employee’s cultural peculiarities (manifested in cultural dimensions) is also insufficiently highlighted. Researchers acknowledge the importance of the organizational culture for the development of proper communication patterns (Wellington, 2014; Willemyns et al. 2011). At the same time, it is stressed that employees’ motivation as well as interaction within the organization improves due to the improved communication. Researchers also state that the organizational culture is vital for the development of the organization and reaching its goals (Keyton, 2011). Common values unite employees who develop links rooted in the organizational culture. These links are instrumental is in overcoming cultural barriers (Keyton, 2011).

However, it is also clear that the organizational culture is based on values of a particular society (Biatas, 2009). Thus, cross-cultural communication patterns should be consistent with the organizational culture. At that, it is important to make sure that the organizational culture is consistent with the most critical cultural peculiarities of people employed. For instance, if a multinational company fails to take into account cultural peculiarities of local employees, it is doomed to fail in that market (Kawar, 2012). At that, there is a lack of particular paradigms that align organizational cultures with cross-cultural communication.

Furthermore, there is a distinct gap associated with the use of gamification when developing cross-cultural communication training. This trend is specifically persistent when it comes to the use of games in Emirati companies. Gamification is utilized to enhance employees’ motivation or improve their performance (Al-Khouri, 2014; Richter et al., 2014). Al-Khouri (2014) states that Emirati companies utilize games to develop internal communication models.

However, no particular attention has been paid to the use of gamification when it comes to the cross-cultural communication. There is evidence that many Emirati companies acknowledge the benefits of the gamification tools but still resort to more formal training patterns when it comes to cross-cultural communication. Thus, there is a distinct need for studies aimed at analyzing the use of games related to cross-cultural communication in Emirati companies. These studies should focus on such aspects as choosing games, playing and the outcomes of the use of games. Emirati employees’ perspectives on the use of games should be central to these studies.

Finally, there is a gap in the literature when it comes to the media used. Games can be played through numerous devices (including but not confined to computers, laptops, mobile phones). The way employees play the games can also be critical as it can have an impact on the players’ motivation and the level of their engagement. Elciyar (2015) considers the use of mobile phones and reveals the benefits of this approach.

However, it is still unclear which tools are chosen in the context of Emirati private-sector companies. Of course, cultural peculiarities of Emirati people may affect their attitude towards different types of technology, which unveils the need to analyze Emirati employees’ preferences. These studies will be instrumental in identifying the most efficient media, which, in its turn, will positively affect the internal communication and the performance of companies.

Methodology

Research Philosophy

This study is deeply rooted in the positivist philosophy. The positivist approach is based on the belief that the world is objective, and any subjective opinions should be eliminated from the scientific research (Chambliss & Schutt, 2013). It is stressed that every assumption and theory should have valid and sufficient evidence. Therefore, the major approach used within this philosophical framework is quantitative as it enables to obtain particular data to support or refute hypotheses.

Therefore, when addressing the goals of this study, it is important to focus on the ways Emirati nationals and expatriates see certain concepts, as well as practices existing in the organizations, to identify their attitudes towards the effects of gamification on the cross-cultural communication in their companies. It is crucial to provide particular quantifiable data that can be generalized. These data will enable researchers to form the background for the development of truly efficient training strategies that will be applicable in the UAE.

Research Overview

As has been mentioned above, this study concentrates on the correlation between the use of gamification and cross-cultural communication in the context of Emirati private-sector companies located in Dubai. A specific focus of the study is the identification of employees’ attitudes towards the use of games aimed at the development of efficient cross-cultural communication patterns. It is crucial to understand people’s perspectives to estimate the ways gamification can be used and predict its effectiveness as employees’ commitment and positive attitude are instrumental in the process. The particular interest is the impact gamification may have on the cross-cultural communication within organizations, employees’ performance, motivation, and engagement as seen by Emirati employees.

Research Approach

This study aims at unveiling people’s attitudes towards the use of gamification in the work context. This research also focuses on the extent to which gamification is used in Emirati companies and whether it is perceived as mainly positive or negative. Therefore, the quantitative approach was chosen for this study. This approach enables the researcher to elicit the participants’ ideas on the matter and estimate the extent to which the trend persists in the specific context (Chambliss & Schutt, 2013). It provides generalizable data free from any bias.

Data Collection and Analysis

Variables

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the correlation between gamification and employees’ performance and motivation as seen by the employees. Therefore, the independent variable utilized in this study was the use of gamification. The dependent variable was the cross-cultural communication. The cross-cultural communication was evaluated in terms of changes that occurred in the communication patterns as well as the degree of interaction between Emirati nationals and expatriates.

Sampling

The study focuses on the cross-cultural communication in private-sector companies located in Dubai. Hence, the participants included Emirati nationals and expatriates working for private-owned companies that are located in Dubai. The stratified random sampling was used as a sampling method as it minimized bias and associated threats to validity (Chambliss & Schutt, 2013). The sample (comprised of 53 employees) included people between 22 and 40 years old (mean age was 31 years old).

This age group was chosen as it represented the cohort of people who were mostly exposed to cross-cultural interactions within companies. The population also had the necessary knowledge and skills (fluency in English, professional skills, participation in projects) to take part in various training sessions (including games). This population mainly includes people who are accustomed to using different media (the Internet, social networks, mobile devices and so on).

This is important as gamification is often associated with the use of technology. It is essential to eliminate negative attitudes based on the lack of skills or reluctance to use technology. More so, the structure of the study also required certain skills as the participants had to respond to online survey questions. The communication with the researcher (soliciting participants, written consent forms, and so on) was held via email.

Furthermore, subordinates and supervisors, as well as Internal Communication Specialists, took part in the study. The three groups of employees were chosen to identify the differences between perceptions of people in different positions. Thus, it was possible to examine features valued by HR specialists who chose games and encouraged employees to participate as well as employees who completed tasks or supervised other people’s performance. Different levels of subordination helped unveil the barriers and positive outcomes of the use of gamification. The target of the 25% return sample was met, which ensured that the study was free from the sampling bias.

Instruments

The quantitative cross-sectional survey method was chosen as it enabled to elicit particular ideas on the matter within a comparatively short period of time. The samples were solicited through emails. The written consent was also obtained through this media. The questionnaires were based on the Likert scale, which enabled the researcher to analyze the data easily. It was also comfortable for the participants to answer questions that did not require rigid yes/no answers, as they had to reveal the degree of their agreement or disagreement with this or that statement.

At that, this tool is associated with a significant disadvantage as people may be reluctant to use the options involving rigid ‘strongly agree/disagree’ responses. However, the participants received notifications (via email) where they were informed about the importance of using all options with specific attention to the ‘strongly agree / disagree’ options as it would have a significant effect on the research results. The analysis of the data was based on the nominal measurement level that presupposes the focus on the most frequent answers and the use of percentages. This method ensured quite an effective way to identify existing patterns.

The survey questions were located on EnKlikAnketa, which was a convenient platform to use for all the samples. The participants could answer the questions provided at any time convenient for them. They could also do that from home or their working places. There was no need to adjust the participants’ timetables. The survey took only up to 8 minutes to answer, which was also convenient for the participants who did not have to invest a lot of their time. The use of the online tool ensured the relaxed atmosphere and precision of the participants.

It is necessary to note that the participants were informed that the results of the survey may have an impact on the HR practices used in the Emirati private sector as the relevance and efficiency of an effective training method was under consideration. The samples were also informed that they could receive the results of the survey for their use in the company, which could potentially affect the development of HR practices at their organizations/departments. These steps motivated many participants to be more precise and pay the necessary attention to the questionnaire.

The participants answered 25 survey questions that focused on the employees’ attitudes towards the use of games, the benefits, and disadvantages of this method as related to cross-cultural communication. The participants evaluated the use of games in their companies and the way they affected their individual performance and the overall organizations’ performance. The questions also addressed particular features of games that the participants could value.

It is necessary to stress that the questions focused on the participants’ opinions, which enabled them to respond sincerely and precisely. The focus on attitudes was critical to the purpose of the study as it was important to identify the degree employees are ready, willing or reluctant to play games to achieve goals related to the cross-cultural communication.

Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability

This study was based on the quantitative approach that enabled the researcher to obtain generalizable and reliable data. The sample size is sufficient to develop a valid conclusion on the extent to which gamification correlates with cross-cultural communication and the way this correlation is perceived in the Emirati private-owned companies. The use of the Lickert scale ensures that the conclusions made are valid and reliable since the scale enables researchers to measure people’s attitudes towards various events, concepts and so on.

The sample is diverse as people of different ages, genders and backgrounds are included, which enhances the validity of the data collected. The stratified random sampling ensures the validity of the research as any bias is eliminated. The generalizability of the data is quite high as the sample is diverse and major stakeholders are included. The data obtained can be generalized and applied in the context of Dubai private sector. However, the results can be less generalizable as regards the overall Emirati context.

It is necessary to note that the research is rather valid although some threats to the internal validity are present. For instance, the sampling bias is still apparent irrespective of the steps undertaken to mitigate it. The random selection ensures the minimization of the bias, but the diversity of participants is difficult to ensure in the Emirati context. The number of female participants is lower than that of male respondents.

The John Henry effect also poses certain threats to the internal validity of the study. Thus, the samples understand that they participate in a research and may try to adjust their answers to the desired model as seen by the employees. The participants may want to seem more positive (or negative) about the idea of gamification and cross-cultural communication, which depends on the culture of the company they work for. This threat is addressed through a short note on the importance of sincere answers and the hazards associated with distorted data.

Ethics and Limitations

As for ethical considerations, the confidentiality and anonymity of the participants were ensured through coding. The researcher emphasized that the questionnaires or their answers would not be provided to the employees or any other third parties, and the responses would not have a negative effect on participants’ careers. As has been mentioned above, the participants could get the study results, but those data would not violate any rights.

The participants obtained written consent forms through emails and returned the signed forms through their emails. The consent forms included the description of the purpose of the study and major concepts used. This information ensured that the participants were aware of the topic discussed and properly understood the task. The questions were designed with the focus on the participants’ rights, values, and interests. No prejudice or stereotypes were present in the questions. The employees’ answers could not be regarded as unethical or biased.

As far as the limitations of the study are concerned, it is necessary to note that the data can be generalized to the private-owned companies operating in Dubai. However, they cannot be applicable to the overall Emirati private sector. It is necessary to note that Dubai is one of the most attractive locations for the international business, and many multinationals have worked there for decades. This historical background may shape the results as people living in Dubai may be more accustomed to cross-cultural interactions than inhabitants of other emirates.

The data can also be less applicable in such sectors as public-owned companies or governmental organizations due to the differences between the three types of organizations, as well as their goals, vision, and missions. However, the major goal of the study is to examine opinions of people working for private-owned companies located in Dubai, which can be achieved.

Another limitation is associated with the nature of the quantitative approach. The quantitative method implies quite rigid boundaries of the inquiry. In other words, the participants address the areas mentioned in the survey, while such important factors as the reasons behind the particular thinking are left unanswered. It remains unclear whether personal experiences of people or practices existing in their companies could affect their perspectives. However, the research focuses on people’s attitudes rather than the background for the opinions. Hence, the method chosen is valid for the purpose of the study.

One more common limitation of the quantitative research is the excessive generalizability of the data. Thus, some researchers argue that the data obtained through the quantitative inquiries can be too general to be applicable in the context of a particular organization (Chambliss & Schutt, 2013). However, this research focuses on quite a specific area (private-sector companies located in Dubai), which helps address the limitation mentioned. The modern business world is globalized, and many companies employ similar tools.

More so, companies often have a similar vision and organizational cultures based on the principles of responsibility, empowerment, egalitarian values and so on. Therefore, many Emirati companies share certain values, which means that employees often accept (or, at least, comply with) certain organizational values. Thus, it is possible to note that the attitudes towards cross-cultural communication and gamification are likely to be generalizable in the context of the Emirati private-owned companies.

Results

Over 100 employees of privately-owned companies located in Dubai took part in the survey. More than a half of the participants were not eligible for the study as they did not participate in the on-job training that involved the use of games. Some employees failed to complete all the survey questions, and their results were disregarded. The survey was terminated after results of 53 surveys were completed as this number of participants corresponded to the targeted sample.

The sample included 33 male employees (62%) and 20 female employees (38%), which can be regarded as a diverse sample. The percentage of female employees in the UAE is 46% (Labor force participation rate, female, 2016). The rate of female employees who participated in the survey is slightly lower than the rate of the female workforce in the country, but gender was not a variable in this research. Therefore, it is possible to note that the survey results are quite illustrative as the rate of female participants is around 40%.

As has been mentioned above, the age of participants is between 22 and 40 years old (with the mean age 31 years old). It is necessary to note that the rate of employees between 31 and 35 is similar to the one of the employees under 25 and made up 26% (see figure 1). Thus, the number of people pertaining to the four categories is quite similar (around 25%). Moreover, age was not a variable, and, hence, all employees’ answers (irrespective of the age group) were analyzed in terms of the variables chosen for this study.

The number of Emirati nationals was 24 (45%). This study aims at identifying opinions of people working at Emirati private-sector companies regardless of their nationality. The way employees see gamification and its effectiveness in the Emirati working setting was the focus of this study. Hence, expatriates’ perspectives were also valuable as the outcomes of gamification rather than games proper were under study. The participants occupied different positions and often took up leadership roles within cross-functional and cross-cultural teams.

Participants by age.
Figure 1. Participants by age.

The participants revealed their views on the use of games in organizations in general as well as shared their ideas on their personal experiences. The vast majority of participants (78%) regarded gamification as beneficial for the company. The same number of the employees agreed that the participation in gamification should be awarded. At that, the participants also noted that more formal forms of training were more efficient (see figure 2). It is necessary to add that 45% of the participants chose the neutral option rather than a definite position expressing their agreement or disagreement.

Gamification vs. formal training.
Figure 2. Gamification vs. formal training.

The participants depicted quite a different attitude towards gamification when their personal experience was involved (see table 1). The employees were the least confident in the positive effect of gamification when it came to bias and prejudice. It is also necessary to add that up to 30% of the employees tended to choose the neutral position when responding to questions associated with their personal experiences as regards the use of games in the working setting. It is necessary to emphasize that the vast majority of respondents (72%) noted that they gained knowledge concerning different cultures that were represented in the organization’s workforce.

Over a half of the participants (62%) agreed that the use of games could help them understand other cultures. Only 59% of participants agreed that they learned more about different cultures. It is noteworthy that only 11% of the employees claimed that they had some cultural biases before they took part in the on-job training involving the utilization of games. The number of people who agreed that their prejudice was destroyed due to the use of games is not very different from the number of the participants who disagree with this statement (see table 1).

Table 1. Personal Experiences of Employees as Regards the Use of Gamification.

Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree
I have learned about particular cultures represented in our company. 0.15 0.57 0.13 0.04 0.04
I believe the simulation games (we participate in) help understand my colleagues pertaining to other cultural backgrounds better. 0.11 0.51 0.26 0.02
Some of the cultural biases I had have been destroyed due to my participation in simulation games. 0.02 0.36 0.28 0.25
I have understood that I have had some prejudice concerning other cultures due to my participation in simulation games. 0.08 0.3 0.28 0.23 0.02
I learn a lot about other cultures when playing simulation games. 0.23 0.36 0.28 0.11 0.02

As far as the correlation between communication and the use of games, it is possible to note that it is quite significant as up to 50% of employees agree that they started communicating more effectively with their colleagues pertaining to other cultural backgrounds (see figure 3). It is also important to note that the number of people who are not sure about the outcomes of the use of games (choosing the neutral option) is quite high (around 30%).

It is necessary to add that only 41% of the participants noted that they increased their participation in the cross-cultural teams while almost the same number of employees were unsure about the effect of the training on the organization’s practices (see figure 3). Furthermore, almost a half of the participants (45%) reported that they had instances of miscommunication before the training. The data shows that the participants have quite a strong belief that miscommunication has been removed after the training that involved games as 13% of the employees noted they continued having communication issues related to the cultural aspect.

Outcomes of the use of games as a type of employees’ training.
Figure 3. Outcomes of the use of games as a type of employees’ training.

As has been mentioned above, the correlation between gamification and organizational performance is also addressed in this research. The rate of answers revealing a degree of uncertainty (neutral) is around 30% like in the rest of questions in this survey. At that, the degree of uncertainty is significantly lower (19%) improved working environment when it comes to the employees’ views concerning the working environment (see figure 4).

The majority of the participants (60%) agreed that the use of games improved the working environment in their organizations. The views on the overall performance are also quite positive as almost 50% of employees claimed that the collaboration between colleagues improved and the number of cross-cultural teams has improved. The positive view on the impact of gamification is specifically vivid at the personal level as 52% of the participants noted that their performance enhanced.

Organizational outcomes associated with gamification.
Figure 4. Organizational outcomes associated with gamification.

The questions concerning some technical aspects were also included to make sure that possible negative opinions were not caused by the technical issues. The technical problems included specific issues with the software, the devices as well as confusing instructions of the games. This strategy has proved to be effective as the results show that the employees had quite mixed feelings associated with the technical aspect (see figure 5).

On the one hand, more than a half of the participants stated that simulation games use in their organizations had to be improved. On the other hand, only 14% of employees noted that they had some technical issues, and 17% agreed that the instructions were too confusing (see figure 5). These problems, in the participants’ point of view, may have been the reason for their low performance. It is also noteworthy that the degree of uncertainty is rather high as up to 45% of employees chose the neutral option when answering questions concerning technical issues. The number of the employees who chose this option is higher compared to other sets of questions.

Technical issues.
Figure 5. Technical issues.

Discussion and Conclusions

The Views Concerning Gamification

The survey provided insights into the way Emirati people employed in the private sector view gamification as a form of training as regards cultural issues. As has been mentioned above, the study focuses on two variables (cross-cultural communication and gamification) while such variables as gender, age, and nationality were excluded. The primary focus of this study is to explore the views of employees working for privately-owned companies located in Dubai.

The participants’ opinions on the efficiency and particular outcomes of the use of games are central to this study. This focus is instrumental in the identification of existing trends as regards the use of games in on-job training related to cross-cultural communication.

The first set of questions was associated with the way employees saw their level of cultural awareness as well as the benefits of the use of games. It is apparent that the participants experienced certain difficulties related to the cultural aspect. Thus, 38% of the participants noted that they had certain cultural biases while 72% of employees claimed that they learned a lot about different cultures (that were represented in their organizations) (see table 1).

Such data show that there are numerous gaps related to employees’ cultural awareness. These findings are consistent with other studies. For instance, Goby and Nickerson (2015) claim that Emirati nationals face certain difficulties related to the cross-cultural communication.

Irimiaş (2011) stresses that stereotypes and bias are common for the working setting, which is associated with lower performance and motivation. The same trends are apparent in privately-owned companies located in Dubai. Both Emirati nationals and expatriates seem to be unprepared to interact effectively with each other due to the scarcity of knowledge on cultural peculiarities. This survey shows that the overwhelming number of employees have insufficient cultural awareness, and on-job training is the only way to address this issue.

It is also clear that the participants believe that the use of games as a training method is beneficial for the development of their cultural awareness. Thus, 38% of the participants noted that some cultural biases were removed, while 62% of employees stated they started understanding better their colleagues pertaining to different cultures. Over a half of the employees (59%) agreed that they had a better understanding of other cultures due to the training that involved playing games (see table 1).

Briam (2010) also states that gamification is beneficial for gaining knowledge concerning different cultures. Thus, it is clear that Emirati employees, when exposed to gamification, tend to acknowledge the benefits of this type of training. Gamification also helps employees identify existing prejudice and bias, which makes them more open and less biased. Employees learn how to have a more open view on different cultures as well as cross-cultural communication.

At the same time, this study increased the scope of evidence as regards Arabic people’s attitude towards formal and non-formal training. For instance, Al-Khouri (2014) claims that Emirati employees prefer formal training to non-formal forms. This study also shows that Emirati employees tend to see formal training more positively as 33% of the participants agreed that formal training is more efficient than gamification.

These data can be regarded in terms of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, and the explanation is evident. The analysis of cultural peculiarities of Arabic people within the dimension of indulgence / self-restraint shows that this population is characterized by a significant degree of self-restraint (Becker, 2014). In other words, Arabic people prefer to work hard, complete particular tasks and spend less time distracting themselves from the work. Clearly, games are often seen as something less serious and, hence, less effective.

These findings reveal one of the barriers to efficient implementation of gamification in the Emirati context. Employees tend to see games as something unimportant but are eager to invest more effort into completing more formal tasks. Therefore, the learning objectives are unlikely to be met, which will make the use of games cost-ineffective. Al-Khouri (2014) stresses that HR professionals in the UAE tend to choose formal training forms when focusing on internal and cross-cultural communication.

It is clear that HR specialists understand the peculiarities of employees’ attitudes towards games and try to stay on the safe side. This trend is common for organizations located in Dubai, which is supported by the results of this research. It is clear that the participants had quite limited knowledge concerning games. These gaps will be addressed in detail in the following sections of this paper.

At the same time, Al-Khouri (2014) adds that the use of games has already proved to be effective as the beneficial outcomes are evident. Thus, it is essential to make sure that the employees understand that the use of games is not aimed at making their working experience more pleasant, but to make the learning process more efficient. Employees should understand that the use of games is aimed at training specific skills in diverse settings. HR professionals should also choose games where the entertaining component is less central. When it comes to cross-cultural communication, games can mimic various working situations employees encounter every day.

The way Emirati employees see gamification should also be analyzed in terms of such dimensions as power distance and uncertainty avoidance. As has been mentioned above Emirati people value authority and decisions of top management are not questioned usually (Kamali et al., 2015). Therefore, the use of games as a training tool largely depends on decisions made at the higher level. If HR specialists use games, which is a part of the organizational culture and the overall strategy, employees are likely to have a positive view on the training.

Thus, the position of the company’s top management is essential. As far as the dimension of uncertainty avoidance is concerned, Arabic people prefer following particular rules and avoiding any uncertainty (Kamali et al., 2015). This survey provides the evidence to support the assumptions mentioned above. It is clear that employees favorably view gamification with some aspiration for more formal types of training and more definite rules and instructions.

A remarkable finding is associated with Emirati employees’ motivation as regards participation in this type of training. According to the data obtained, 78% of the participants believe that their participation in training (involving games) should be awarded. This trend can be explained with the help of Hofstede’s model and one of its dimensions, namely masculinity. Arabic people refer to cultures with a high degree of masculinity, which means that they are competitive and assertive (Kamali et al., 2015). This study shows that Emirati employees are eager to have certain awards (not necessarily monetary rewards), which can be explained as their eagerness to compete for a particular prize.

These findings are consistent with the existing research. For example, Richter et al. (2014) emphasize the importance of scoring in the Emirati working setting due to its positive correlation with employees’ motivation and performance. The presence of an award is associated with the essence of competitiveness as there is only one winner (or at least, certain score), which makes it clear who the best performer is.

It is important to note that the high rate of the participants who stressed the need to introduce awards means that the training strategies existing in their organizations do not presuppose awards. At the same time, the increase in performance and motivation is apparent. It is possible to assume that employees’ motivation and performance are likely to improve significantly if the system of awards is launched.

Finally, it is necessary to analyze Emirati people’s cultural peculiarities in terms of Hofstede’s dimension of collectivism. Emirati people pertain to highly collectivist societies as they value collective work and regard communication and sharing ideas as a crucial part of any individual’s life (Kamali et al., 2015). Thus, playing games can (and should be) seen as one of the collective tasks to complete. Employees acknowledge the benefits of training that can be viewed as a way to share and pass knowledge. Again, the more interaction is available for the employees during the game, the more motivated they can be to participate.

Employees should feel that they are a part of the community where people may share experiences and knowledge. It can also be important to make sure that these experiences are shared outside the training environment. Employees will be motivated if they can discuss their ideas (associated with the game) during regular meetings or during free time (for example, lunch). This approach will contribute to the inclusive attitude of Emirati employees who will be more eager to see expatriates as in-group members.

Gamification and Cross-Cultural Communication

Another set of questions the participants responded to focused on the correlations between cross-cultural communication and gamification. Almost a half (45%) of the participants agreed that they had experienced instances of miscommunication due to cultural differences before they took part in the training sessions (see figure 3). These data are also consistent with the findings of other researchers. Goby and Nickerson (2015) note that miscommunication is often a result of different cultural backgrounds of employees and the lack of knowledge concerning proper cross-cultural communicative strategies.

People employed in privately-owned companies have to face culture-related issues as the workforce in this sector is highly diverse. Emirati private companies often employ expatriates who occupy managerial posts.

As has been mentioned above, the flaws in cross-cultural communication are often associated with the lack of proper knowledge sharing (Al-Khouri, 2014). Al-Khouri (2014) states that employees often have incomplete information on certain issues and make ineffective conclusions, which leads to various cases of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Nonetheless, this study shows that miscommunication is not linked only to the ways knowledge is shared within the organization but relates to the employees’ cultural awareness.

In other words, stereotypes, bias and lack of knowledge concerning other cultures tend to lead to miscommunication and cross-cultural issues. This study also reveals the correlation between the prejudice and impaired cross-cultural communication as 38% of the participants note that they had certain cultural bias prior to the training. Remarkably, the degree of prejudice decreased after the use of games, which can be regarded as the evidence of the effectiveness of this training method. Furthermore, the existence of prejudice and lack of knowledge also leads to employees’ reluctance to collaborate in cross-cultural teams. Employees are likely to work in teams that are culturally homogeneous.

It is necessary to note that only 34% of the participants agreed that they did not experience miscommunication after the training while 35% were not sure choosing the neutral answer (see figure 3). Remarkably, only 13% noted that they had issues associated with cross-cultural communication, which can be associated with the effectiveness of the training.

It is also clear that the training had a positive impact on the employees’ confidence and collaborative skills as 66% of the participants stated that the collaboration among employees improved significantly due to the training. At that, 41% of employees reported that they started participating more actively in cross-cultural teams, which means that they became more confident and motivated to collaborate. The barriers were also diminished as the participants claimed that they did not pay attention to the cultural background of their colleagues.

The results show that Emirati employees start perceiving other employees (irrespective of their cultural backgrounds) as in-group members as Willemyns et al. (2011) put it. Willemyns et al. (2011) emphasize that Emirati people, being a collectivist society, divide people into groups, and the cultural background is one of the criteria. Improved cultural awareness helps Emirati nationals understand other people and include them in the group where the cultural background is less relevant.

This inclusion improves the collaboration and the overall working environment within the organization. It is important to stress that the inclusion is hardly achievable if employees have stereotypes as regards other cultures. This study shows that having more information about other employees is instrumental in changing people’s opinion. Thus, 72% of the participants agreed that they had a deeper understanding of their colleagues’ cultural background, which can be associated with the employees’ views on the improvements associated with cross-cultural communication.

The survey results show that the participants became more open after the training. Importantly, the openness and motivation to collaborate may be linked to the culture-related knowledge as well as the format of the training. Briam (2010) stresses that gamification is an engaging experience as people become eager to discuss and explore. This assumption is supported by the data obtained as the participants became more active members of cross-cultural teams.

The employees seem to be more interested in communicating with people pertaining to other cultural groups and share their knowledge and experiences. Thus, playing games can be regarded as a platform for and a start of the cross-cultural communication within organizations. Formal training provides a set of knowledge while games facilitate interaction between trainees. This finding can be an important implication for games developers who should makes sure that games are interactive and engaging. There should be more space for interaction that can transcend the boundaries of the game and become an indispensable part of working experience.

Cross-Cultural Communication and Employees’ Performance

Another important set of questions was concerned with the cross-cultural communication as well as the employees’ performance. There is certain correlation between the cross-cultural communication and performance as 52% of the participants noted that their personal performance improved while 60% of the employees stated that the working environment became more favorable (see figure 5).

Importantly, only 4% of the participants claimed that the cooperation between employees and the working environment did not improve. The difference in the number of people supporting the two opposing views shows that the overall perception of gamification outcome is positive. Kamali et al. (2015) stress that cultural aspects often have a detrimental effect on the working environment and employees’ performance. The present study supports these findings and shows that gamification can contribute to the elimination of barriers and improvement of the working environment in companies in the Emirati private sector.

The correlation between the number of cross-cultural teams and the use of games as a training tool is also apparent as 48% of the participants stated that the number of cross-cultural teams in their companies increased due to the training that involved games (see figure 4). These data suggest that employees manage to develop certain cultural and personal intelligence to communicate with team members pertaining to different cultural backgrounds.

Kawar (2012) emphasizes the importance of the development of proper communication channels and strategies based on cultural awareness. Thus, it is clear that training involving the use of simulation games can help employees acquire the necessary skills and become effective members of cross-cultural teams. The creation of cross-cultural teams is beneficial for the overall performance of the organization as diverse approaches and ideas translate into innovative strategies and competitive advantage of the company.

Technical Aspects

The final set of questions was concerned with the technical aspect as it was crucial to make sure that technical impairments did not distort the data. It is possible to note that the employees’ attitudes were not largely influenced by some technical issues as the number of the participants who had some problems is not very high (up to 17%) (see figure 5). Nonetheless, the data obtained are quite controversial. First of all, the rate of ‘neutral’ answers is rather significant (up to 45%), which prevents the researcher from making definite conclusions (see figure 5). More so, the difference between those who did not and did face technical problems is not considerably different.

For instance, 14% of the participants claimed that they had technical issues that negatively affected their results while 21% of employees noted that they did not have such issues. As for the instructions clarity, 17% of the employees stated that their results could have been distorted due to somewhat confusing instructions while 25% noted that the instructions were clear (see figure 5). It is evident that the participants had rather limited knowledge and experience to assess the way technical issues affected their results.

It can also be associated with the quality of games available and ineffective HR practices. For example, the HR professional could have provided confusing instructions or could have failed to motivated employees properly. The individual responsible for training could have chosen inappropriate games. These situations could be the reasons for such confusion and uncertainty among the participants.

Moreover, the majority of the participants (58%) stated that simulation games used at their organizations should be improved. Thus, it is clear that employees understand the benefits of gamification and find the format appropriate but still think there are certain areas for improvement. These results show that employees have quite mixed and uncertain attitudes that can be a result of the lack of experience and knowledge related to the use of games in training.

Answers Uncertainty

It is important to stress that the participants were asked to choose definite answers (agree/disagree and strongly agree/strongly disagree). Nonetheless, the rate of neutral answers is quite high as around 30% of answers to all the question is ‘neutral’. The only exclusions are the questions concerning the comparison of gamification and more formal training strategies and the technical issues. These questions received 45% of neutral responses.

This pattern may have several explanations. Firstly, employees are not sure about the benefits of gamification as well as the way technical issues may undermine their results. The participants are unsure if their capacity was sufficient to perform well during the games. Secondly, the high level of uncertainty may be explained by the fact that employees do not have sufficient knowledge and experience to evaluate these aspects.

It is also possible to note that cultural peculiarities of Arabic people may have influenced the way the participants answered the questions. Arabic people try to avoid any negative evaluations as they do not want to hurt anyone (Becker, 2014). Finally, it is possible to assume that gamification is not deeply incorporated into the organizational culture. Employees’ unawareness and lack of experience associated with the use of games shows that gamification is not common for their organizations.

As has been mentioned above, Arabic people value authority, and it is possible to note that top management of companies located in Dubai does not see gamification as an appropriate training strategy. The situation should be changed, and top managers should be informed about the benefits of the training strategy in question. HR specialist should play a leading role in this process as they should provide the necessary information to decision makers.

Each of these cases shows that it is important to raise people’s awareness concerning gamification, its peculiarities, and benefits. These findings also unveil some peculiarities of the use of games. Thus, developers of the games, as well as HR professionals, should make sure that the instructions are clear, and no technical issues are possible. More so, the assessment of performance, motivation (or other aspects the training aims) should be held so that employees could actually see the results of the training. This aspect is closely connected with the concept of awarding, which is important for Emirati employees.

Limitations

This study provides significant insights into the research concerning the correlation between gamification and cross-cultural communication. At the same time, it has certain limitations related to the number of participants and the degree of certainty. The implementation of the research was associated with quite a limited period. Therefore, the number of participants is not considerable (only 53 employees). These data are hardly sufficient to generalize them and make conclusions concerning the situation in the Emirati private sector. The use of the five-scale answers also poses certain threats to the research validity as approximately a third of the participants chose the neutral answer. Thus, it is quite difficult to elicit the employees’ ideas as to various aspects of the study.

Implications for Future Research

Irrespective of the limitations mentioned above, this study has various implications for future study. First, it can be beneficial to pay more attention to the posts and roles occupied by the participants. The responsibilities, as well as the power employees have within the organization, may potentially affect the way people view gamification and its outcomes. For example, employees occupying managerial posts can be less motivated to participate in games due to the belief that this training method is not cost-effective.

It can be beneficial to focus on particular experiences and knowledge as the participants seemed to have quite a limited understanding of the matter. The degree of the answers’ uncertainty may be a result of the lack of knowledge. The employees should share their experiences associated with their participation in games. They should concentrate on such aspects as outcomes, difficulties (if any), details of the game, their feelings and even emotions.

This information will help assess the effectiveness of games through a detailed analysis of each component. This research shows that employees believe that games used should be improved. It is vital to identify areas for improvement as seen by the stakeholders.

It is also important to assess effects of different types of games. One of the most urgent questions to answer is whether online games are more appropriate than games played during face-to-face interactions. According to Toprak and Genc-Kumtepe (2014), face-to-face communication is much more difficult than online communication, which shows the need to focus on the development of digital resources. Employees should start their interaction and communication in the digital community. The face-to-face interaction can be the second stage of training. It can also be useful to compare the efficiency of computer-based and mobile games.

This research unveils another area of possible concern as ideas of both Emirati nationals and expatriates were analyzed. However, it is clear that due to cultural differences, these two groups are likely to perceive games differently, which will have an impact on the employees’ participation, motivation, and overall performance. Understanding these peculiarities will contribute to the development of effective games applicable in the diverse working setting.

Conclusions

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that the correlation between gamification and cross-cultural communication in the Emirati privately-owned companies setting is apparent. The participants mainly had positive attitudes towards the use of games as a training strategy as regards cross-cultural communication. At the same time, due to certain cultural peculiarities associated with such dimensions as self-restraint, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance, Emirati employees still prefer more formal types of training. Games are seen as less effective and rigid forms of instruction, which affects people’s motivation and participation.

It is also important to add that the lack of knowledge and experience concerning the peculiarities of games and their benefits is evident. Employees of private companies located in Dubai reveal a significant degree of uncertainty as regards the outcomes of gamification as well as their experiences associated with the use of games as a training strategy.

These findings provide valuable insights for developers of games as well as HR professionals responsible for on-job training. This study is instrumental in identifying the most important areas to consider when creating or choosing a game. For instance, it is vital to make sure that instructions are clear, and the software (as well as devices applied) does not have any defects. It can be beneficial to focus on modeling real-life situations to address Emirati people’s focus on doing business rather than having fun.

The games should be informative, and it can be a good idea to focus on a set of cultures rather than try to include information concerning numerous cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, the games should involve maximum interaction as it will facilitate the interaction within the organization. Employees should be able to develop communicative strategies and channels with the help of games. The communication should start during the games. Therefore, games developers should make sure that their products have the necessary features to satisfy this need.

Finally, HR professionals should contribute to the development of the corresponding organizational culture that presupposes the use of this type of training. Employees should be informed about the peculiarities and especially the benefits of gamification. They should also be encouraged to take an active part in training. Thus, it is necessary to consider introducing an awarding system. The system can involve monetary rewards, promotion, extra days off, participation in other training programs, badges, and so on. The results of the games should be available for other employees to see, which will be a form of an award for the winner and a motivational factor for other employees.

This research shows that gamification has a considerable potential in the Emirati context as employees who have participated in such training acknowledge the benefits of the use of games when it comes to the development of cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication skills. However, it is crucial to make sure that proper models and techniques are used, and the stakeholders used the evidence-based approach. It is important to promote gamification among Emirati top managers and develop games that would respond to the challenges of the business world of the UAE.

Reflection: Ability to Meet Targets and Present Data

The entire research process was challenging and informative. The preparation for the research and presentation of data were the most time- and effort-consuming parts. It was important to gain sufficient background knowledge on the matter, and searching for appropriate sources took a lot of time. It is necessary to note that there is a plethora of information on the matter, and this abundance may be the reason why the review of the available literature took so much time. It was also important to develop a sound methodology to make sure that the research questions will be addressed effectively. The quantitative cross-sectional survey method was chosen to identify the participants’ opinions on the matter. This method was instrumental in examining existing trends in a particular setting.

The data collection process seemed to be the most challenging part of the research. Nonetheless, the use of an online survey resource made the process convenient and efficient. The source enables the researcher to place the survey questions as well as some information about the research so that the participants could be more motivated to take part in the study. The survey tool also helped analyze data and even present them. One of the most challenging parts of the data collection process was the quality of participants and the quality of eligible surveys. It was rather frustrating to see that some people simply completed the first part of the survey and withdrew from the study. Some surveys were partially completed which was also associated with some inconveniences.

The process of data analysis and presentation was one of the most interesting. The researcher could analyze the data and find correlations. It was exciting to find the links to previous studies and draw some conclusions that extend the boundaries of the existing research. It was also interesting to consider implications for future research as it turned out that this study can become a background for other inquiries that will fill in the gaps.

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