Businesses often believe that Ramadan is associated with a slowing down of operations, fewer hours worked and general loss of effectiveness. Yet pragmatic business leaders can ensure that the shorter working weeks of Ramadan do add value to their organisations. Rather than worry about the negative effects on business, GCC organisations should instead focus on improving efficiency, increasing engagement and embracing change during the Islamic holy month.
Working more hours does not necessarily translate to increased 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.
Focus on improving the effectiveness of hours worked. 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. “This is primarily a leadership and management issue. A great leader helps their team work effectively and happily to make the very most of every hour,’’ explains Professor William Scott-Jackson, Chairman of Oxford Strategic Consulting and an expert on HR in the GCC.
Working shorter weeks can increase staff happiness and engagement in the long term. Few employees would agree that working more hours makes them happier. Rather, studies have shown that more time spent relaxing, recuperating and enjoying family leads to happier and more efficient workers generally. The shorter work weeks during Ramadan, then, may reward employers with more productive staff all year round. Moreover, employee engagement and team commitment can be enhanced by the less urgent and informal environment afforded by Ramadan and its associated events.
Change can stimulate creativity and encourage innovation. Employers should use the informal environment of Ramadan for team building and brainstorming workshops around Iftar and other social events. Breaking the monotony of routine can help to 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 efficiency, utilising informal activities to increase engagement and embracing change in order to increase creativity and innovation within the organisation.