Employee productivity is not affected despite work hours being cut by two in the UAE during Ramadan. If anything, it increases, according to experts. While the jury is still out whether relaxed hours can be implemented throughout the year, specialists have made the case for companies to have shorter workweeks, work-from-home options and flexible leave policies to boost productivity.

With reduced hours during the holy month, employees “often maintain a high level of focus and momentum throughout the workday”, said Abbas Ali, chief growth officer at employment services company Tasc Outsourcing.

“As employees typically refrain from taking extended breaks or postponing tasks for later in the day, this focused approach often translates into sustained productivity levels throughout the day,” he told Khaleej Times in an interview.

“Additionally, the anticipation of leaving early motivates employees to accomplish tasks efficiently within the shortened timeframe, ensuring that they meet their personal and professional goals.”

Effective time management, work-life balance, and employee well-being highlighted during Ramadan can advocate for exploring flexible work arrangements or shorter workweeks throughout the year, he added.

“By prioritising productivity over hours worked and fostering a supportive work environment that values employees' personal lives and well-being, companies can potentially enhance employee satisfaction, retention, and overall productivity. Therefore, while Ramadan may not directly justify shorter work hours year-round, it does underscore the importance of considering alternative work arrangements that support employee productivity and well-being.”

Recruitment entrepreneur Nicki Wilson said shorter work hours throughout the year for every business may not work.

“There are many ways to offer flexibility and incentives to ensure a great work culture. Employers should be asking their employees what drives them and what incentives they would like … Many people might be more motivated by benefits such as schooling, bonuses, duvet days, work from anywhere weeks or even just being told ‘well done’,” said Wilson, who is the owner and managing director of Genie Recruitment.

Shorter workweeks at more companies

The UAE transitioned into a shorter workweek in 2022, with Friday half-day, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend in the country. In Sharjah, the workweek is even shorter, with government employees reporting to the office Monday to Thursday. According to a study conducted last year, Sharjah employees reported an 88 per cent increase in productivity and a 90 per cent rise in job satisfaction after the Emirate adopted the 3-day weekend.

The world's largest trial of a four-day workweek in the UK last year also proved that shorter hours left employees happier without affecting productivity.

Most UAE-based companies follow a standard five-day workweek, with the weekend typically falling on Saturday and Sunday. Employees working five days a week typically adhere to an eight-hour workday schedule.

However, the country saw a rise in companies implementing half-day Fridays in 2023, according to Wilson. She implemented the policy within her own company and saw “a rise in happiness of employees”.

Ali said there's a “growing trend” of companies implementing a four-day workweek, with Friday as a half day in some instances.

In November last year, technology company e& UAE piloted a four-day workweek across three departments. Many Dubai-based communications and marketing companies give their employees a three-day weekend.

However, despite the promising results, various factors hinder companies' widespread adoption of such practices.

“One possible reason could be the reluctance to deviate from traditional work structures due to concerns about operational efficiency or perceived risks associated with change,” said Ali. “Nevertheless, as awareness grows regarding the positive outcomes associated with flexible work arrangements, more companies are likely to explore and adopt similar strategies. As the benefits become increasingly evident, we may see a shift towards more companies offering shorter work hours or workweeks as a means to optimise productivity and employee satisfaction in the future.”

Shorter work hours

Wilson said the company she founded has shorter work hours. And that move stems from personal experience.

“Most recruitment agencies will have a set 9am to 6pm shift but expect their employees to work late or come in early most days. I used to work in an environment where I was told off if I didn’t come in before 8.15am even though I started at 9am, and I was expected to stay most days past 7pm.”

Her team members leave office at 5.30pm Monday to Thursday and work from home on Fridays with a 3pm finish. “We find this to be more productive as the team can work smarter and ensure their responsibilities are covered within their set working times. We truly believe in a work/life balance and try to encourage it. All staff are also allowed to come in early to then finish early and are encouraged to have the flexibility to stay home for deliveries, go to sports days, attend important appointments without pressure etc.”

Unlimited leaves, extra days off

Wilson’s company gives employees duvet days — unscheduled leaves that are taken to typically alleviate stress or pressure.

“We give three duvet days as standard to all staff, where they can call up in the morning and use one with no questions asked. As an employer, you must understand that sometimes people have a bad day, maybe they really just don’t want to come to work, maybe they are going through something and that’s ok.”

Dubai-based super app Careem offers what is known as an unlimited leaves policy. Simply put, employees are not limited by a capped number of vacation days throughout the year.

In an interview with Khaleej Times earlier, an official from the firm had explained that the policy offers “colleagues with the flexibility they need to accommodate personal circumstances while meeting the exceptionally demanding requirements of their jobs”.

Copyright © 2022 Khaleej Times. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).