Many business leaders believe that Ramadan is associated with a slowing down of operations, fewer hours worked and general loss of effectiveness. Yet research by Oxford Strategic Consulting (OSC) found that changing work models is increasingly becoming more hospitable to the Ramadan work schedule. Rather than worry about the negative effects on business, MENA and GCC business leaders should instead focus on improving well-being, increasing engagement and embracing flexible work patterns during the Islamic holy month.
More vacation time can improve performance and well-being. A 2006 internal study by the accounting firm Ernst & Young found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors improved by 8 percent. Employees who took vacations more frequently were also significantly less likely to leave the firm, which helped to increase retention rates.
What might appear a short-term gain in working people beyond the stage where they are really effective can be offset by longer term problems in staff burn-out, errors, retention and recruitment problems as well as significant diminishing returns in productivity. “A great leader helps their team work effectively and happily to make the very most of every hour rather than just put in the hours,’’ explains Professor William Scott-Jackson, Chairman of OSC and author of the upcoming Palgrave book Transforming Engagement, Happiness and Well-being.
Shorter work hours do not necessarily translate to decreased productivity. The Japanese, for example, consistently reduced working hours since the early 1970s but their productivity continued to rise over this period. The UK was forced to work a 3-day week due to a miners’ strike in the 1970s; however, experts were baffled to find that production fell by only 6%. Most studies indicate with significant fall-off in productivity after 8 hours of working, and the majority of productivity tends to occur between the 2nd and 6th hours of work. Office workers were found to be especially susceptible to deterioration in performance after 6 useful hours of work per day, compared with 8 hours for more manual jobs.
Shorter work weeks can increase staff happiness and engagement in the long term. The Swedish government implemented a 30-hour work week for select employees during a two-year study and found that staff was happier, less stressed and enjoyed work more – the only downside being that the scheme proved too expensive for participating employers. Given the religious and cultural significance of Ramadan for MENA countries, prevailing work norms during the holy month are unlikely to change because of fiscal concerns. The shorter work weeks during Ramadan, then, reflect an opportunity for employers to nurture more productive staff by focusing on employee engagement and team commitment in the month’s less urgent and informal environment.
Greater control over workloads and schedules can boost well-being. A study by the Birmingham Business School found that employees with more autonomy experienced greater overall well-being and job satisfaction. Thus, employers should use Ramadan to encourage employees to work more hours when and where they will feel comfortable. Flexibility is key: team building exercises, meetings and brainstorming workshops can take place around Iftar and other social events, while less essential tasks can be done remotely from home. Breaking the monotony of routine helps formulate new ideas within an organisation and also build stronger bonds between employees.
Ramadan does not have to be an unproductive period for GCC businesses. Instead, business leaders can derive value from the Islamic holy month by focusing on improving well-being, increasing engagement and embracing flexibility within the organisation.