UAE announced on Tuesday that it will transition to a four-and-a half-day working week, with Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday forming the new weekend. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: The UAE Government and all departments under its structure will start on a new workday and weekend schedule from January 1 – UAE’s private sector will be using the next 23 days to decide their plans on making the same switch. Or working in accordance with the change.

But one thing is for sure – the UAE by making the switch to a four-and-a-half weekday plan has emerged as a pioneer in creating that work-and-life balance. “The UAE (is the) first country in the Gulf to move the weekend to align with other international jurisdictions,” said Aqsa Khan-Sadiq, Senior Associate at the law firm Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla.

Hala Badri, Director-General of Dubai Culture
“However, we believe many businesses in the UAE will welcome the move of bringing the weekend into line with global markets to facilitate ease and expediency of doing businesses,” says Hala Badri, Director-General of Dubai Culture.

“This change has occurred at an exciting time when the UAE will also be bringing in some key changes to its Labour Laws (applicable to the private sector) as of February next. No official announcement has yet been made - we look forward to further details being released.

Several countries have in the recent past spoken about the need for bringing about changes to how their people should mix work and off-work. Extending weekends and lowering the work hours form part of that strategy.

The extended weekend comes as part of the UAE Government’s efforts to boost work-life balance and enhance social well-being while increasing performance to advance the UAE’s economic competitiveness. These are efforts that Dubai Culture aligns with and will continuously support, in line with national strategies to strengthen the UAE’s position on a global scale for it to remain the source of inspiration it has always been. I am proud to be a member of this glorious country and celebrate its accomplishments that consistently raise the bar for global progress.

- Hala Badri, Director-General of Dubai Culture

Ball in private sector’s court

With the UAE Government proceeding full tilt towards the switch, individual businesses and groups will make their own plans accordingly. The blue-chip private sector enterprises and those affiliated with the Government will be among the first to confirm to a 4.5 workday. And then others will join – but the most important change will be in the mindset. At least for the initial few weeks.

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“The syncing of Monday as the start of the week will be the biggest single benefit for businesses, especially those with overseas interests,” says Rizwan Sajan, Chairman of Danube Group. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Because it will be as much about starting the week on Monday instead of Sunday as it will be about working half-day on a Friday. “We will await more clarity on what the changes mean for the private sector in particular and then take decisions accordingly,” said Rizwan Sajan, Chairman of Danube Group. 

Banking –biggest winner?

The UAE’s banking sector will be an early beneficiary from the switch, first with the government departments starting on Monday and, potentially, with more private sector players following. “Friday as holiday meant that businesses did not have access to commercial banking services,” said an ex-banker who has a consultancy service now in Dubai. “They had to complete those tasks Thursday or wait until the following Monday to reach their overseas counterparties. Expect more business-related banking services to be generated on Fridays.”

"The UAE has (also) become one of the first jurisdictions in the world to introduce a 4.5-day working week for Federal Government employees."

- Aqsa Khan-Sadiq, Senior Associate at Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla

Aligning with rest of Gulf markets

The Monday start to the week brings the UAE in sync with most of the world, when taken from a business and markets’ perspective. But there are some adjustments to be made, notably in working with the other Gulf markets who are still in the Sunday-Thursday work mode.

A quick move
Capital Tap Holding was quick to confirm that it is moving to a four-and-a-half day working week for its employees, representing the first formal announcement by a private sector entity about the switch. This will take effect from January 3.

“The new working week would better align the Capital Tap Holding’s vision with the UAE government along with global markets, reflecting the organization’s focus on its heart and soul - its employees,” the management consultancy said in a statement.

But market sources say the bigger picture needs to be looked at – “From an investment perspective, the region has been slow to attract institutional capital in a meaningful way, largely due to lack of assets of quantum and lengthy international due-diligence,” said Faisal Durrani, Head of Research at the global consultancy Knight Frank. “The weekend change sends a very strong signal to the global investment community and may well help tip the balance in favour of stronger international investment flows in the future.

The shift to a Saturday-Sunday weekend is a validation of UAE’s future-looking mindset. It signifies the UAE's openness to align the economy with global markets and make positive changes that will attract top global talent and companies to its shores. This landmark decision is expected to inspire the private sector to rethink the workplace culture.

- Adeeb Ahamed, Managing Director at Lulu Financial Holdings.

“The UAE’s pro-business focus has been cemented by the landmark weekend change, aligning the country with the majority of global business hubs, by declaring ‘We are open for Business’.”

Retail – consumer mindset

For UAE’s retailers and malls there are two obvious openings from the switch – a longer weekend gives them a chance to host more visitors to their stores. Even with online sales making sharp year-on-year gains, UAE residents love to spend their time at the malls and in-stores. More leisure time on their hands – whether that means only for Government employees or private sector as well – will translate into more mall visits.

We will be better aligned with the rest of the world - it will have a huge impact on the hospitality, retail and entertainment sectors. Productivity will go up without compromising on time with family and friends.

- Satish Mayya, Advisor, BPG Group

According to retail industry sources, it will mean only minimal adjustments to their operations. “Malls and retail operate on a 24x7 basis; the change in workdays and weekends only means adjusting to new patterns of shopper flows,” said a retailer. “Retail in the UAE is used to operating on an always-on model.”

More reasons to link

HR industry sources say that a “sizeable number” of private sector enterprises will move quickly to link up with the new Government initiative. The UAE Government has made it a priority through its recently launched ‘Nafis’ scheme to have more UAE Nationals take up jobs in the private sector. This is why a mismatch between public and private sector work hours will be reduced where possible.

This move, in the long run, is expected to further improve Dubai’s position as a global city to establish business headquarters, in addition to other existing positive factors such as ease of doing business, business continuity, resilience and safety.

- Edward Macura, Partner at CORE

On a need-to-basis

Vijay Gandhi, Regional Director at Korn Ferry

At most businesses, it is about adjustments. “There will still be companies with operations, clients and partners in the wider Gulf region who will have to continue operating on Sundays,” said Vijay Gandhi, Regional Director at Korn Ferry. “With a more flexible work environment, the transition to the new weekend wouldn’t be that difficult.”

The UAE has shown a new pathway of work-life balance and employee welfare for the rest of the world to follow. This is the fourth change in the UAE's weekend pattern and the availability of three evenings for employees will change the course of HR history.

- Shabeel Ummer, a senior HR specialist

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