Is the world ready for a shorter working week like the UAE?

Publish date: 2022-02-10

Author: Diane Scally

Is the world ready for a shorter working week like the UAE?

As employee well-being and hybrid working options increasingly jump to the top of many organisations’ agendas, the United Arab Emirates has taken it to a whole new level this month by changing their working week from 5 days to 4.5 days for employees of all federal entities.

This trailblazing move, which came into effect on 1st January 2022, makes them the only country in the world to formalise a shorter working week to “boost productivity and improve work-life balance”, according to a UAE government media office Tweet.

Of course, the shift from a Friday/Saturday weekend (the norm for most Gulf nations) to a Saturday/Sunday weekend is not solely for the benefit of federal employees. The move will also bring the UAE in line with western schedules, which should be beneficial from an economic perspective, enhancing the UAE’s ability to operate in global markets and transact in real-time.

However, to allow for Friday afternoon worship in the predominantly Muslim state, the new UAE weekend will start at lunchtime on a Friday, with employees being given the option to work from home on a Friday morning.

A report from the state news agency WAM said, “The move is expected to boost not only trading opportunities but also add to the flexible, secure and enjoyable lifestyle the UAE offers to its citizens and residents.” It would appear that the message the UAE wants to communicate to the world is that it is a forward-thinking, flexible and employee focussed place to live and work, which in turn should attract the best talent and encourage businesses to base themselves there.

In light of the government changes, it is expected that most private sector businesses and education institutions will swiftly follow suit, with many, including the McGreggor Boyall Dubai office, already implementing the change to their weekends with immediate effect.

So, in a post-Covid world where organisations have come to terms with things that perhaps made them uncomfortable in the past, such as remote working and flexible hours, plus the recognition that increased employee engagement is needed to help improve productivity, will something as radical as changing to a 4.5-day working week be adopted more widely?

There is already interest in the concept in the UK, with the Scottish National Party suggesting in a recent Tweet that they would support a £10 million pilot to help companies explore the benefits and costs of moving to a 4-day week. A few companies have already introduced a shorter week, such as Belmont Packaging in the North of England, who say that the change benefits their employees and makes them more productive.

As companies worldwide continue to look for ways to differentiate themselves and offer better work/life balance to their workforce, a shorter working week could be the way forward. However, maybe it’s still a step too far for many employers? It looks like we will have to wait and see who will be brave enough to follow the UAE’s lead…Watch this space for updates!