Workplace Doctor: Boss’s refusal to sanction shorter Ramadan hours will demoralise staff

My husband works for an Iranian company in Dubai. Unfortunately his boss has not decreased the hours that need to be worked during Ramadan. There are 10 employees and all are Muslims, with most of them travelling from Ajman. They have to be in the office from 9 to 5. The manager has told all the staff that if they complain to the Labour office, he will cancel all of their visas. Do you have any suggestions about what he should do? ­SM, Dubai

During Ramadan, normal working hours are reduced by two hours under the Labour Law. However, there could be some challenges in your husband’s situation as his manager is threatening to overlook this law and cancel visas if challenged, terminating employment in the process. This leaves your husband and others in a really tricky situation.

Firstly, making direct representations to your husband’s boss regarding the labour law is just one way of dealing with this situation. The authorities conduct checks from time to time to ensure companies are compliant with the Labour Law and employees are working Ramadan hours. As a very last resort, if the tip-off cannot come from your husband or the other nine employees, it is worth considering where else a potential tip-off could come from.

However, before any drastic action is taken I’d suggest the team collectively fights the case by explaining the impact of almost imprisoning staff with 9-5 working hours, particularly focusing on the inevitable decline in employee motivation and performance. A management choice made this month could affect staff morale, motivation and engagement for years to come.

I can imagine your husband’s boss is unaware of the negative long-term impact that his lack of understanding will create. Employees are not just motivated by external rewards such as salary and promotion but also by having their voices listened to, and their values and beliefs taken into account by a boss who understands and appreciates them. A happy workforce is certainly a more productive one and it seems your husband and his colleagues are justifiably unhappy with an unfair decision that has been made.

The boss should be made explicitly aware that this decision will certainly have a detrimental and significant impact on the engagement and loyalty of all 10 of his staff. Leading with an iron fist through fear and threats will only mean that people escape as soon as they can, and that those who happen to stick around will be bored, cynical and disengaged. Does your husband have any ideas about why his boss has reacted in this way? If he is under stress on a particular project employees could try offering alternative solutions that might help him to feel less pressurised. Offering him the consideration he is not giving his staff might appeal to his better nature and persuade him to relax his approach.

Unfortunately for him, lack of motivation is just one drawback of this decision. Ramadan can also have an effect on personal productivity as people’s daily schedules change, even affecting their sleep patterns. When people have busy and demanding lifestyles, sleep is often the first thing to be cut. Change of sleep patterns can have a huge effect on body and mind and if not managed appropriately, performance. The implications of sleep loss should be shared with him. In a study of 1,000 managers conducted by Ashridge Business School, sleep loss was found to affect focus in meetings and generating ideas (especially among younger workers).

And those who are sleep-deprived were more likely to give up on tasks easily. People also feel more irritable, frustrated and stressed, with less energy to socialise and take on others’ points of view.

When you also factor in other changes to lifestyle occasioned by the holy month, it becomes clear why the working day is restructured during this time. Allowing people to work shorter hours is one way of mitigating the changes in sleep patterns, concentration and focus that can affect employees during Ramadan, and if the boss continues to ignore this option the decline in productivity will have consequences for his bottom line. Perhaps sharing some of the widely available research and articles on this topic will persuade him of his team’s point of view.

Doctors prescription

The decision to override the Labour Law may appear to management as important to keep business going, but in fact creates “presenteeism” – people attending work when they are not in the psychological or physical state to do so. This has two major consequences; an effect on individual performance and well-being and a collective decline in morale and motivation.

Your husband’s employer has a tough decision to make and individually or collectively, the employees need to make him aware of this; focus on short- term profits and risk losing the engagement of his entire workforce or think of his business over the long term. If he fails to do what is right, he will almost certainly be left with a disgruntled team who if they don’t leave when they have the chance, will turn against him in other ways.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School, based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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