It’s no secret that everyone moves into a different beat during Ramadan. Business hours are shortened, daytime food intake is discouraged, and the evenings are packed with banquets and social gatherings. The month is also a time of year when a lot of people jet off for their annual holidays.
During the month-long observance, when the Muslim faithful cut themselves off from worldly desires during the daylight hours, the law stipulates that UAE companies allow employees to work two hours less. It is also customary to stay up late for fast-ending feasts and get up early before sunrise.
Some say that reduced business hours could lead to rescheduling meetings or putting off major decisions, while changes in sleeping and eating patterns can take a toll on a worker’s ability to deliver good results. Economists have said that overall productivity during Ramadan declines by about 30 per cent. However, this isn’t always the case.
Human resources (HR) experts and office managers said that the reduced office hours, for one, are making workers more focused and efficient. Employees are also able to adjust to a new work rhythm by prioritising important projects, holding meetings in the morning and keeping discussions short and concise.
And, if there’s only one thing that the working population can learn from the month, it is that flexible or shorter office times can inspire workers to work just as hard.
Annalinde Nickisch, HR consultant at The Thought Factory in Dubai, said that staff shortage can indeed lead to lower business transactions and affect day-to-day operations, but the employees can utilize the quiet time to get their house in order or focus on reviewing their internal processes. Some good examples include annual budgeting or creating collaterals, marketing and sales plans.
“The major impact [we’ve felt] is on our day-to-day operations, but since we knew that most projects won’t start until after Ramadan, we have allocated all resources to completing existing projects. Most of our client meetings are scheduled in the evenings during Ramadan. Also, most communications we receive from clients these days usually start around 9pm as opposed to 9am,” Nickish explained.
Kory Thompson, country manager at Regus, a provider of flexible workplaces, said that while they have seen many people taking their annual holidays during Ramadan, the shorter working days can have a positive impact on the attitude of those who have decided to stay behind.
“We actually see that allowing shorter working days mean that employees can get home early and take a short nap, meaning that they will feel better and more productive when at the office,” said Thompson. “Companies offering flexible working will definitely see the benefit during this month of celebration.”
David Robert, CEO of Great Place to Work Gulf, said it is not fair to generalise that Ramadan takes its toll on workplace productivity.
“Typically, companies and staff get into a different rhythm during the month, but this also means that meetings and activities are more focused and efficient. Meetings that may have taken an hour are completed in 30 minutes without any negative impact on productivity,” he said.
“The month is an important time for reflection and this can apply in the workplace, too. Often, companies will use the month to consolidate their positions and business strategies, which is why some decision-making may appear to slow down. The fact that Ramadan coincides with summer this year may also be impacting the rate at which decisions are made,” Robert added.
Sharon Pereira, an Indian expatriate working for a public relations company in Dubai, said she doesn’t feel like work has diminished at all, although it can be challenging to try and wrap things up within a shorter timeframe. “It can get unnerving at times, but is manageable,” she said.
“We try and not reschedule or cancel any meetings because work has to go on. My Muslim colleagues are very professional and with the first two days being quite a trying time for them have continued to work with gusto because at the end of the day, clients pay for the work delivered and I think they understand that,” she added.