A family-oriented view on well-being amongst low-status expatriates in an international workplace

Washika Haak-Saheem*, Xiaoyan Liang, Peter Jeffrey Holland, Chris Brewster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The pandemic emphasised the importance for society of the “hidden” workforce – cleaners, delivery drivers, security guards or hospital porters. This paper explores the well-being of low-status expatriates in the international workplace exemplified by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is one of the first studies examining the well-being of people at the bottom of the pyramid, living in difficult circumstances, and undertaking work that is hard and sometimes dangerous. Design/methodology/approach: The authors adopt an exploratory approach. Using semi-structured interview data from 21 low-status expatriates, the authors examine their experiences in the UAE in relation to their well-being, allowing the authors to suggest the need to develop our understanding of the concept of well-being and the concept's application. Findings: Low-status expatriates live restrictive lives, away from their family and friends for extended periods, and subject to rigid terms and conditions of employment. Difficult circumstances, long working hours, late or arbitrarily reduced salary payment and a lack of voice affect their personal well-being and sacrificed to consideration for their family well-being. Applying the concept of well-being in such cases requires the authors to develop the notion beyond the individual to encompass the wider family. Research limitations/implications: This exploratory analysis opens new avenues for well-being studies and highlights the need for contextualised research. Future research might benefit from quantitative methods being used alongside qualitative methods and collecting multiple perspective data, including the views of managers and policy makers and data from the “left-behind” families of these low-status expatriates. Practical implications: There is plenty of scope for managers of low-status expatriates to improve the latter's well-being. Given the lack of interest in doing so, the authors suggest that policy makers may need to modify extant legalisation to ensure a greater focus on low-status expatriates. Originality/value: The authors believe this to be the first study to examine the impact of family orientation on the well-being of low-status expatriates, encouraging the authors to challenge and suggest developments to current understandings of well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1029-1041
JournalEmployee Relations
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2022


  • International work
  • Low-status expatriates
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Well-being


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