The UAE is taking the lead globally as it presses forward with a flexible working environment as the federal government pivots to a four-and-a-half day work week from January 1, 2022, according to recruitment experts.
The move is also expected to better position the Emirates as an attractive place for work-life balance among the global talent pool, recruitment experts added.
“The UAE is the first country in the world to have a federal remit for a 4.5-day working week. That’s a really big plus,” according to David Mackenzie, group managing director of recruitment agency Mackenzie Jones.
“The UAE has a low taxation threshold, flexible working hours, lovely weather and a short commute to the workplace that make it more attractive to the global workforce. It will be top of the charts in promoting a better work-life balance.”
Sharing the same work week as the Western world will make the UAE even more appealing not only to the global workforce but also to entrepreneurs wanting to set up business in the region, said Richard Jackson, chief operating officer of staffing company TASC Outsourcing.
The decision to introduce a shorter working week adds to the region’s appeal and will make it easier to promote the region to job candidates as a cosmopolitan, dynamic and forward-thinking place, according to Zahra Clark, head of Mena for Tiger Recruitment.
“The move helps better align the UAE with global markets, thus making it a greater hub for businesses regionally and globally — a key component in attracting the world’s top talent,” Arda Atalay, head of private sector at LinkedIn Mena, said.
The initiative will support a better work-life balance for UAE-based employees that work for and with global organisations, according to Ted Raffoul, career products leader for Mena at Mercer.
Many professionals are looking to make their next big break in the UAE and this move will make the country even more favourable as a work destination, Shreyansi Gupta, head of marketing at jobs site Bayt.com, said.
According to a study conducted by Bayt.com and Boston Consulting Group, the UAE emerged as the 13th most preferred destination where foreign nationals would like to work.
The new federal government working hours are from 7.30am to 3.30pm from Monday to Thursday and from 7.30am to 12pm on Friday. Government employees will have the flexibility to make arrangements to work from home on Fridays, and to arrange their working hours on a flexi-time basis.
The UAE private sector is largely expected to implement the new working hours, according to recruitment experts.
The private sector in the UAE is regulated by the UAE Labour Law, which allows it flexibility, Abdulrahman Al Awar, Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, told Bloomberg TV on Wednesday.
“Each company, depending on the sector they operate in and what suits and serves their business best, can choose the weekend they decide for their employee,” Mr Al Awar told Reuters.
The shift “will allow our economy to attract talent … and allow further flexibility and more alignment with the world economy”, he added.
This is an opportunity for the public sector to test the waters, according to Tiger Recruitment’s Ms Clark.
“It’s inevitable that the private sector will follow suit, especially with public and private schools shifting their week in line with the changes; parents will be keen for their working week to be aligned with their children’s school week,” she added.
The new legislation is expected to support employees, their well-being and productivity in the workplace.
“It will enhance productivity in the long run but that journey will take time as people adapt to the change and need to focus on optimising their time,” Anjali Samuel, managing partner of executive search company Mindfield Resources, said.
“This is a journey as new ways of working always have their fair share of bumps before it starts creating an impact.”
The fundamental goal of flexible working and a shorter work week is to improve employees’ quality of life, Mr Jackson said. This has directly and positively improved their productivity in every country and company that has implemented similar legislation, he added.
“Time will tell, but experiments with reduced working weeks in other parts of the world, such as in Iceland, suggest that we can not only expect higher productivity but enhanced employee well-being,” according to Ms Clark.
“We agree with the leadership’s sentiment that productivity improves with flexibility,” LinkedIn’s Mr Atalay said. “When employees have a chance to attend to their personal life, they tend to focus more on their designated work hours, in turn improving productivity.”
The new working week is also a sign that flexible working arrangements are here to stay in the UAE.
Flexible working is what employees now expect from their job, Ms Clark said. The hope is that this new working week will encourage even some of the more traditional companies still wedded to the 9-6 working day to embrace more flexible ways of working, she added.
“We are seeing a huge appetite for flexible work both from candidates and companies,” Mr Jackson said. “Many companies are now also using work from home and flexible hours as benefits to attract the best talent during the current talent crunch.”
International organisations have had flexible working arrangements for years and it has entered the space of the regional and local enterprises, Ms Samuel said.
Employers that adopt a consultative, empathic approach to support their staff in adjusting to the new way of working will maintain productivity, morale and talent, Mercer's Mr Raffoul added.
A survey by LinkedIn this year found that more than 80 per cent of UAE employees wanted a flexible schedule and the ability to work remotely part-time, giving rise to a wave of new job roles across the board, according to the professional network.
“Employees working from home felt safe, happier and were able to spend more time with their family — a key driver in championing a new model of work,” Mr Atalay said.
Some recruitment experts, however, expressed concerns that some companies might use the new working week as a reason to reduce staff salaries or annual leave.
“The cynical part in me wonders whether some employers might use this as an opportunity to reduce pay for those on lower salaries despite working longer hours. In theory, I would like to believe that all employers would see this as more productivity despite the less working hours,” Mr Mackenzie said.
In other countries where similar legislation has been implemented, employees have successfully managed their work within the shorter work week and it has not had an impact on their annual leave, according to Mr Jackson.
An employee needs to agree to a salary reduction and employers cannot reduce wages unilaterally, according to Devanand Mahadeva, director of Bestwins Law Corporation.
“Employers cannot alter annual leave, too. The UAE Labour Law gives employees the right to 30 days of annual leave and this does not relate to the number of working hours,” he said.
However, employers might increase the number of working hours on a weekday to cover for the four-and-a-half-day work week. Under the Labour Law, employees can work up to 48 hours a week and Friday must be a holiday, Mr Mahadeva added.
A four-and-a-half-day week doesn’t have to mean longer hours, but it will require people to work smart. This might mean reviewing existing processes and practices to see what could be improved and refined to save time, Ms Clark said.
“Shorter meetings, video calls rather than face-to-face meetings when appropriate — these are just some of the ways that people can make the most of their working time. I expect it will mean less annual leave but the trade-off is a more balanced lifestyle,” she added.