Punctuality is not a traditional virtue of Saudis, which adversely affects their level of productivity. The constant and all-pervasive presence of the poor punctuality and reduced productivity of Saudis is mainly due to poor time management skills and the lack of importance given to time in general and to achievements on an individual level, in particular. Other factors include an inadequate educational system along with some counterproductive traditional practices.
Punctuality is not of great importance in Saudi Arabia, as Saudis often show a relaxed attitude to time. This can be seen in many situations, from the punctuality of a driver to the start of an official event, both of which clearly show that Saudi culture neither encourages tight schedules nor gives timeliness a high priority.
One can cite a number of social practices that show this relaxed attitude to punctuality. Deadlines are not absolute, and there is no great sense of urgency surrounding due dates. Frequent and unscheduled visits to friends and relatives are not considered a waste of time but rather time well spent. It is considered discourteous to be caught looking at one’s watch during any sort of social gathering.
Missing an appointment or showing up late is frowned upon. Yet, it is not a big deal about which one must worry. If a Saudi schedules an appointment with someone at 8:00 P.M., it means around 8:00 P.M., and he might be expected to come around 8:30 P.M. or later. Ironically, if he shows up for the meeting at the arranged time, it may send the message that he is trying to please the person he is about to meet.
‘No point in getting upset’
A further aspect of this social practice is the fact that unless one has an appointment with a very important person, not coming to the meeting or social gathering or showing up late is received with much greater tolerance than it would be in other countries. Arrangements, in fact, may change at any moment, without, in most cases, advanced notice, and definite commitments for the future are often considered much too restricting.
It could be that the justification for the wide social practice of tardiness or punctuality, in addition to some of the suggested reasons above, may have been passed on to us by older generations who lived in vast deserts where urgency and scheduling were the least of their daily concerns.
The structure of a Saudi’s daily life, which is based on accepting life as it comes, could also be the cause of such an attitude to the concept of time. Therefore, if things do not go according to plan, there is no point in getting upset. This attitude of Saudis could also be due to their view that time is something to share rather than something to steal.
With these views in mind, we turn to the problem of low productivity at the personal level in Saudi Arabia, as it is another noticeable feature in the lifestyle of Saudis. Generally speaking, Saudis do not perform well or work to their potential for a variety of reasons. The underlying causes can include an apparent lack of focus, vision, priorities, motivation and direction, or a failure to value individual accomplishments and achievements. Additionally, low individual productivity among Saudis can be attributed to inadequate training, lack of understanding of standards, policies and procedures, as well as poor work habits and the lack of a strong work ethic.
The most adverse effect of the intractable problems of punctuality and low individual productivity in Saudi Arabia is on the national economy, as many public policies and plans are disrupted, postponed, or delayed. It also has a significant effect at the individual or personal level, as seen in the lack of respect for the time of other people. Other consequences include a reduction in business productivity, an overall hindrance in economic growth and a decrease in fiscal sustainability.
Dr. Khalid Alseghayer is a Saudi academic, who writes on the Kingdom's and regional affairs.