Dubai company to experiment with four-day working week until end of year

Trial aims to encourage and motivate employees, as well as attract new talent

A person works from home on a laptop computer in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Illinois reported 1,337 new coronavirus cases Wednesday as the state's positivity rate dropped below 4% for the first time in weeks. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
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A digital marketing communication agency in Dubai is switching to a four-day work week from September until the end of the year.

Active Digital Marketing Communications will not cut any salaries during the trial period, which is intended to provide employees with a better work-life balance, the company said.

The move comes after a public sector trial in Iceland to introduce a four-day working week that resulted in many people going from working 40 hours a week to working 35 or 36 hours.

“We are so pleased to be one of the pioneers in this region, in our industry and with our team to implement this,” said Sawsan Ghanem, the agency's owner and managing director, in a LinkedIn post.

“We have given our team this month [August] to start adjusting across teams and process and plan to go live on September 1 and trial this until the end of the year.”

The four-day work week would be a great format to encourage and motivate employees as well as attract new talent
Sawsan Ghanem, owner and managing director, Active Digital Marketing Communications

The Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged many organisations, including crowdfunding company Kickstarter and consumer goods firm Unilever, to try the four-day work week to allow employees to juggle work and home life, while having more time for personal pursuits. More employees are demanding an improved home-life balance as they return to the office full time.

The UAE Labour Law prescribes a maximum of six days and 48 hours a week as working days, Devanand Mahadeva, director of Bestwins Law Corporation, said.

“So, when you look at a four-day work week, it could entail 12 hours of work a day. There are organisations where employees currently put in 12 hours a day for four days a week on a shift basis, especially in industries such as aviation, hospitals, transport, logistics and cleaning services, among others,” he said.

Ultimately, the UAE Labour Law prescribes the maximum number of hours and days. As of now, there is no regulation with regard to minimum working days or working hours, Mr Mahadeva said.

Active Digital Marketing Communications has been studying the pros and cons of the work structure for some time now, said Ms Ghanem. The management spoke to a few business owners in Europe and the US about their experiences and read about productivity and the work-life balance.

“Over the last 18 months, it has been challenging to not only run a business but also to balance the well-being and health of our team members," said Ms Ghanem.

"When we look at all the discussions around work from home, what the future looks like and how our priorities and focus have shifted during this pandemic, it is clear that bold moves are the way to go and change is something that we all need to embrace not resist.”

After speaking to agency owners in the UK and US, the team began to plan and conduct research into the concept in June this year, the founder said on LinkedIn.

Employers must clearly define key performance indicators and use technology to monitor staff productivity and outcomes
Abbas Ali, senior vice president, TASC Outsourcing

The four-day work week would be a great format to encourage and motivate employees as well as attract new talent, she said.

The team also discussed “the challenges of fitting this to the UAE Labour Law stipulations”, Ms Ghanem said.

Abbas Ali, senior vice president at staffing company TASC Outsourcing, said there is appetite for creative ways of working in the UAE and many organisations are trying new concepts that deliver better employee productivity and higher engagement.

“Recently, we have seen a few start-ups try the four-day work week. Within large organisations, too, some teams are trying this [concept]. For instance, a large outsourcing company is experimenting with the [concept] with one of their customer engagement teams. Employee productivity levels have gone up because they get to spend more quality time with their family,” Mr Ali told The National.

Although he does not expect employee pay cuts in a four-day work week scenario, Mr Ali said employers must clearly define key performance indicators and use technology to monitor staff productivity and outcomes.

“We have also seen huge growth in the number of remote working environments. Many of our GCC clients do not want their specialist employees to come to the office. They are, instead, operating from places like Russia, Mexico, South America and Europe,” said Mr Ali.

Referring to work structure trends in the technology industry, the ethos is around production rather than attendance, said Bradley Maasdorp, DevOps and cloud lead for permanent recruitment at AIQU Search, a division of TASC Outsourcing that focuses on the recruitment of technology employees.

“I have client partners in FinTech who offer unlimited leave and a remote work-from-anywhere culture. These are companies that trust their hires and let them do their thing, irrespective where or when it is done,” Mr Maasdorp said.

However, David Mackenzie, group managing director at recruiter Mackenzie Jones, ruled out the four-day work week concept working in the UAE in an earlier interview with The National.

The UAE Labour Law prescribes a maximum of six days and 48 hours a week as working days
Devanand Mahadeva, director, Bestwins Law Corporation

“There has always been a culture of hard work and putting in reasonably long hours in the UAE. I can’t see that changing unless the public sector introduces it first, with the private sector following its lead,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Iceland trials, run by Reykjavik City Council, had a host of workplaces taking part – including schools, hospitals, social service providers and offices. Many have adopted the four-day week as a permanent model.

However, Iceland is not the only country in the world to explore the concept.

Earlier this year, the Spanish government announced it would test the concept of a 32-hour working week while New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said employers should consider a four-day week to help employees have a healthy work-life balance.

Updated: September 08, 2021, 6:53 AM