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.
It’s nearly three weeks into Ramadan and if you feel like you’re being sluggish at work or falling behind deadlines, here are a few things to do, to stay motivated and keep your energy up:
- Avoid staying up all night. Ensure your to-do list is done and you are aware of what is urgent for the following day.
- Schedule meetings and work on critical tasks in the morning, when employees are more refreshed and attentive.
- For managers, keep the team motivated by creating a list of tasks for the week and rewarding the star performers.
- Keep emails to a minimum. Talk with the team face to face or on the phone to save time.
- Don’t set unrealistic goals. Bear in mind that the working day is reduced.
- Think twice before traveling between office locations. You could save time if you just pick up the phone or send an email.
- People celebrate Ramadan differently with some enjoying the late evening suhoors or attending Al Fajr prayers. Managers could consider breaking the day into morning and afternoon shifts to accommodate different lifestyle preferences.
- Keep the staff motivated and engaged by organizing recreational activities during Ramadan. For example, you can hold a company iftar.
- Ensure a quiet and well-conditioned work environment, a place where staff can focus without distraction for the time they are in the office.
- Allow staff to focus on multi-tasking and diverse work assignments (avoid lengthy, time consuming tasks), keeping staff interested and enthused about their work.
- Focus on tasks that lie within the comfort zone of the employee (avoid new tasks that may require intensive learning requirements).
- Timely communications/messages about the great importance and value that working has in Islam to encourage staff to stay committed to the role they play in their workforce.
- Use this time as an opportunity for internal training, allowing people to focus on developing their skills they would otherwise not have had the chance to given their work regular work loads.
- Use this opportunity to focus internally at improving policies or processes, get rid of any piled up work, do the internal admin work, or make preparations for the surge of work after Eid holiday.
Sources: The Great Place to Work; Regus; The Thought Factory; Towers Watson