Weekend shift in the United Arab Emirates: the big disruption and the biggest benefits – News

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Clearly, this change is a step change that will not only help the UAE attract and retain talent, but also improve the work-life balance and mental health of its workforce, by more to increase productivity.



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By Hessa Al Ghurair

Published: Sun, Jan 16, 2022, 10:00 PM

To align its economy with global markets and increase its international business, the UAE made a strategic announcement to shift the weekend to Saturday and Sunday.

The UAE had previously observed a Friday-Saturday weekend. From 2022, the public sector will operate a four and a half day working week and private companies will be free to choose their own working week.

The weekend will now start on Friday afternoon so that resident Muslims can still leave work at noon so they can attend afternoon prayers. Following in the federal government’s footsteps, the emirate of Sharjah has opted to mandate a three-day weekend – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – to align with international operations while keeping Friday free for religious observance.

Countries like Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and Iceland have already started testing a four-day working week with resounding success.

For example, Iceland launched a pilot program between 2015 and 2019 with 1% of its working population in the public sector. During this time, productivity stayed the same or improved, and researchers found that workers reported feeling less stressed and less at risk of burnout. Today, 86% of the Icelandic workforce has either switched to shorter hours for the same pay or acquired the right to do so.

In response to the challenges of Covid-19, Spain will experiment with a 32-hour working week over three years, without changing workers’ wages. It is expected that 200 companies will participate in the pilot program.

The UAE’s decision to adopt a shorter working week is a natural step, as the country has long embraced a flexible working culture across a number of industries. This new change reaffirms the UAE’s position of encouraging people to work from home to accommodate the new schedule and balance work-life priorities when needed.

This change will also significantly improve equal employment opportunities, especially for people with family or care responsibilities.

This change has proven to be a major victory for gender equality in the workforce. According to the World Economic Forum, the gender pay gap begins to widen once women have children. This policy has the potential to help working mothers balance work and child-rearing while remaining at the same level as the rest of their colleagues.

This change in the UAE has drawn mixed reviews from businesses. According to a recent Mercer survey, almost a third of companies are worried about the impact of being out of sync with other Middle Eastern countries. However, on the positive side, this change will make the UAE more attractive to foreign investment and talent at a time when it is strengthening its competitive advantages over other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia.

For the banking sector, this was a welcome change as it aligns with the opening time of global markets. When it comes to the Food and Beverage and Hospitality sectors, adapting to the new weekend will provide increased opportunity – an extra half day on Friday, and bringing the majority of the population into line with the same weekends will help boost revenue and allow industries to cater for more diverse residents and tourists.

A rising trend during the pandemic has been “the big quit” and employment is at an all-time high globally and across different industries. Several engines are at the origin of this new phenomenon. For starters, workers have reached a breaking point after months of high workloads and depleted resources, particularly in the tech, e-commerce and healthcare sectors. Second, uncertainty and limited revenues in some pandemic-affected industries have led to mass layoffs. Finally, for some people, it was seen as a great opportunity to change jobs, retire early, or leave the corporate world to start their own business. Now more than ever there is a rush for talent and the UAE’s shorter work weeks will be a competitive way to attract and retain a talented workforce.

Overall, the longer weekend is the next big disruption to hybrid work and has had proven positive effects. The UAE’s openness to testing new ideas reflects how it is emerging as a truly nimble nation. Clearly, this change is a step change that will not only help the UAE attract and retain talent, but also improve the work-life balance and mental health of its workforce in addition to increase productivity.

From an economic perspective, the new working week reflects the UAE’s strategic position on the global economic map, connecting international businesses to the country and the region.

This change will improve financial, commercial and economic transactions with the majority of countries in the world, while strengthening relations with thousands of multinational and local companies.

Although the weekend shift can be disruptive at first, I think the overall benefits will shine in the long run.

Hessa Al Ghurair is a human resources expert with the General Civil Aviation Authority

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