Which working option do you prefer - at the office, hybrid or remote? UAE employers have been giving flexibility to staff on how they go about their work hours/days. Now, will they offer four-day working? Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Will UAE companies follow e& - the tech-telecom entity – in offering staff a four-day working week? Or in another way of looking at things, a 3-day weekend?

Some of the biggest corporate entities in the country have had internal discussions about implementing such a programme, even as a test-case, which is what e& Group said it is doing while making the announcement on Thursday (November 30). The e& pilot program applies to its workforce in three departments (these have not been named).

The timing of the e& Group decision is noteworthy. It was early December 2021 that the UAE Government made the announcement about its weekend change. Starting 2022, government departments were operating on a four-and-a-half day work week. (Sharjah opted for a 3-day weekend at the time.)

Sources at some of the other companies said any decision to switch to four-day work week might have to wait.

“We already operate on a four-and-a-half day schedule, following the UAE Government’s move from early 2022,” said an official. “It’s been working really well for us, our productivity per employee remains high, and we have had great success in retention of talent.

“But we still need more time to take a decision on whether there is a strong case to opt for the 4-day option.”

What e& is doing with 4-day working
e& employees who opt to join the project will have a 3-day weekend, Friday to Sunday.

The company already has a hybrid working regime, with employees working remotely a couple of days a week. One of those will be Fridays.

"Based on research published by the World Economic Forum, the new 'work week model has proven to improve employee well-being, increase productivity and significantly contribute to the environment by reducing commuting time and the associated carbon emissions', e& said in a statement.

e& will be the 'test case'

This is where the e& move will help. As one of the biggest corporate names in the UAE (and regionally), the pilot project will be keenly watched by the corporate world. “One big advantage for e& is that it has the human resources to operate 24x7 even in a four-day working week cycle,” said a tech industry source. “Plus, the bulk of its operations are tech-enabled, which means there is flexibility on deploying staff.

“Not many other businesses or industries may be able to do that.”

Vijay Gandhi, Regional Director at the consultancy Korn Ferry, is also of the view that private sector enterprises might stick with the status quo. “Organisations are adopting flexible working hours resulting in workforce coming to office for 4 days and on Fridays work from home,” said Gandhi.

Although there is an interest among the younger generation for a longer weekend, we don’t think there is any adoption in the UAE private sector.

- Vijay Gandhi of Korn Ferry

First adopters

Tech businesses and startups in the UAE are the most likely candidates from the private sector to opt for four-day work, industry sources say. There had been the odd one or two entities that did launch pilot programs, but there have been no further confirmation as to whether they went ahead and made it permanent.

Ibrahim Mougharbel is Managing Director at Great Places to Work, and he reckons that employers will keep pushing to offer greater flexibility in working ways/hours, especially when their staff feature more of under 30s.

Employers will want to see outcomes rather than just focus on the number of hours or days their staff put in. There are growing number of companies that do ‘listen’ to what their employees want.

- Ibrahim Mougharbel of Great Places to Work

“Employers will want to see outcomes rather than just focus on the number of hours or days their staff put in,” said Mougharbel. “There are growing number of companies that do ‘listen’ to what their employees want.

“Most UAE companies already have hybrid working (a certain number of days at office), remote working. In fact, whatever helps employees work better.”

Work keeps getting flexible
Companies in a post-Covid world are moving increasingly towards flexible hours and using the hybrid model. It remains to be seen whether the majority of companies in the UAE or Saudi Arabia will implement a reduced work week. This may depend on the real advantages of such an implementation.

- James Swallow, Commercial Director at PRO Partner Group