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UAE businesses need to shed summer slowdown blues

The mindset that nothing can happen during the period is value destruction

Gulf News

“I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to wait. My boss is away on vacation and we can’t do anything until he returns.”

Do those words sound familiar to you? They should. They’re spoken every summer.

You’ll either love or hate today’s column as we talk about an annual phenomenon in this part of the world: the seemingly sacred right that is summer leave.

Speaking of summer in Dubai, comedian Michael McIntyre described it well in one of sketches: “I’m here to recommend Dubai. It’s a really nice place. I enjoyed it. But please go in the winter.”

Explaining why, he continued, “In the summer, it’s so hot you don’t even know why they built it. You cannot live in these conditions. It’s like an oven. You know when people say: It’s like an oven out there? The only other time I’ve experience heat on this level is when you open the oven and [the blast of heat] hits you [and knocks you back].”

For the same reasons — and no doubt more — you may be counting down the days until your annual leave — but the vacation period isn’t all about fun and family. The mass exodus that occurs as the heat and humidity begin to soar causes the summer slowdown — and it comes at huge cost.

I’m curious to know if you’ve ever calculated the productivity cost of summer. The impact of annual leave doesn’t just slow the tempo of work ... it flatlines productivity.

Every summer, decisions are delayed and plans held up until the start of school when — in theory — everyone is back from the holidays. There is no escaping the fact that much less work is done over the summer than the balance of the year.

“Hurry, let’s get this done before the start of summer. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait until September.”

This, and instructions like it, echo around corporate offices as panic sets in and the countdown commences.

In fact, forget the last minute rush, companies start planning for the slowdown as soon as the year starts. Here’s a common approach: “OK, let’s get this done before summer. Then, after summer we’ll focus on that.”

This is a shocking business practice. And it’s unique to us.

Worldwide there is a slowdown during holidays, but here we grind almost to a halt. And that’s because the UAE offers an exceptionally high amount of annual leave. Forty days is the average number of vacation days and government holidays.

To put this in perspective: Japan offers 10 days; South Korea, 15 days; and both Canada and China, 16 days. Meanwhile, 18 days vacation is the norm in the US, while UK residents get 28 days, Germans have 29 and Saudi Arabia offers 30. So, be thankful for the bucket load of allotted days off you get ...

When it comes to holidays, the UAE offers twice the global average. That is nearly 10 per cent of an entire work year given added leave time, and with that comes twice the slowdown, and twice the impact. Is escaping the heat worth the cost?

I know this isn’t a popular topic, but the UAE is no longer a country that has to offer double the amount of leave to lure people to work here — and we’ve practically cooled the oven (unless you open the door). So, maybe we need to calculate the impact that a reduced amount of days off would actually have on our competitiveness.

For a moment, set your summer dreams aside, and focus on how to make the summer as productive as the balance of the year. You need to intensify your focus and micro-monitoring.

Instead of accepting the slowdown, focus on how to speed productivity up and achieve more in the summer. Set challenging goals and spend the whole summer making sure they are achieved.

Towards the end of last summer — August 28 to be precise — His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, took to the streets to get everyone back to work. Remember the videos showing him walking into empty offices?

As the video documenting his morning visits went viral it sent a loud and clear message throughout Dubai, “Get to work!” In the back of his mind must’ve been an awareness of the impact of the summer slowdown and the desire for everyone to be working at full pace.

Every year, companies plan their business calendar around the summer break, accepting the slowdown as the norm. But why?

Why do we accept the slowdown as an inevitable reality? What are you going to do to make this summer your most productive yet?

— The writer is a CEO coach and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at