With the weekend change implemented, government organizations and schools are now operational from Monday to Friday. The bonus for some is that Friday will be a half day ending at 12 noon so that people can still attend the Friday prayers. Others will have to head back to work after prayers.
This radical move makes the UAE the first country in the world to officially reduce the work week to four and a half days for public workers, compared with the global norm of five days.
The paradigm of working eight hours a day for five days of the week at your desk in a crowded office has been shattered. This is seen by some as a positive move especially in light of the ongoing pandemic. Many companies have reported improved productivity with less working hours and a far happier workforce recently. It also helped improve the work-life balance as more people were able to spend time at home with family.
It is in the UAE's best interests to be an internationally business-friendly location because of its predominantly expat population and its extensive ties with the global economy. It is a global hub for commerce with more room for growth.
There are numerous multinational companies based in the emirates, particularly in the bigger cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The new weekend will be in line with global economies so that those businesses can operate on the same days as their global partners situated elsewhere in the world. This will surely be a boost for business in the region.
However, the switch will prove to be challenging to those companies and workers who have opted not to change their working days, and will remain on a workweek of Sunday to Thursday. These affected employees will be at odds with the rest of the UAE population and this will definitely affect family time and their social life, to name just two complications.
The drawback for companies that have business interests largely with other gulf countries is that the new weekend will cause them to be out of sync with them. More than 30% of companies polled recently were concerned about this.
The private sector can still choose its working week and it is possible that they may opt to have the flexibility of a hybrid system that meets the needs of the business and their different employees.
Prior to the weekend change there were already employees in international finance and trade that worked on Fridays and took the Sunday off. It all just depends on the individual business and if a large portion of their business is conducted with international or regional markets.
Sharjah, one of the seven emirates, has found a unique solution to this conundrum: simply make the weekend longer. Friday, Saturday and Sunday is now the new weekend, with only 4 official work days.
Other countries in the region are still on a Friday-Saturday weekend at the moment.
In 2006, the UAE and Saudi Arabia switched from a Thursday-Friday weekend to the present day weekend of Friday and Saturday to align closer to global banking and business days. Other countries in the region soon followed suit with Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman also amending their weekends.
A Friday-Saturday weekend leaves four working days with most countries and global businesses, which is an improvement on the previous three-day working week.
Working days aligned with the majority of the world not only affect important sectors like banking but also limit the days on which important places like embassies are operational. The latter has been a source of great frustration for many expats based in the region seeking services from an embassy.
It may be trickier this time around because of the religious importance of Friday. How each country in the region responds will depend on how intertwined they are with global and UAE markets from a trade and finance perspective.
Countries in the region with larger local Muslim populations may not be comfortable making the change, even if it increases business days with global financial markets. Local families in the region culturally tend to gather on a Friday.
Friday has religious significance in Islam and is regarded as a holy day of worship. Islam is the predominant religion and dictates the way of life in the region. So it helps to have Friday as a day off to perform your prayers and spend time with the family.
It was this day of the week that Muslims believe God chose as a dedicated day of worship. The Friday prayer is usually conducted in a group and usually includes a sermon given by an imam who is the worship leader of a particular mosque. Men are required to attend the Friday prayer if there are no extenuating circumstances whilst women have the option to attend.
Women and men have separate areas in the mosque to pray. In countries like Pakistan and India women do not attend mosque for Friday prayers; they will perform the Friday prayer at home. However, in other countries like Iran, women go to their local mosque.
In Western countries Muslims perform the Friday prayer if they can step away from work for the duration of the prayer. Employees usually come to an arrangement with their bosses to give them that time off. In South Africa, for example, Muslim owned businesses close, in order to allow staff to attend the prayers.
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