The UAE government switched to a four-and-half day working week in January 2022.
Many European countries have run successful trials of a four-day working week and it appears that several companies in the trial have decided to stick with the new working model.
So, will a four-day working week be adopted in the UAE and how will it affect businesses and employees?
After shifting the working week from Sunday to Thursday to the western Monday-to-Friday model, it made sense for the UAE to offer a half day at the end of the week to enable Muslims to attend Friday prayer, with many given the opportunity to work remotely on this and/or other days.
Since Covid-19, organisations have had to adapt to the challenges that remote working brought and many of us are now seeing the benefits of more flexibility in the workplace.
As such, this poses the question, are we now likely to see the UAE move to a four-day week?
As a business owner and recruiter, I have seen first-hand the advantages of flexible working and I would not be surprised if more companies in this region start to adapt and follow others in Europe who now enjoy a three-day weekend.
I feel that if employees are empowered to take responsibility and be accountable for their work, in most cases there should be no loss of productivity — and maybe even an improvement.
It would surely contribute to employee well-being and offer people more time to spend with their families, doing things they love outside the workplace.
It is a well-known fact that happy employees equals greater productivity. The results from the trials in Europe have certainly been positive.
In the UK, the biggest ever trial of a four-day working week that included 61 companies has resulted in the majority continuing with the policy, with a third of them already switching to the new model permanently.
None of the 2,900 trial participants wanted to return to a five-day week and all reported lower stress and better health among employees.
The question is, will it be possible to increase productivity while reducing working hours?
If a business is open for five, six or even seven days a week, then there would be a policy in place to ensure there is enough staff to cover.
LPM Restaurant, which has branches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is a great example of this. It announced in January that all its employees would now work four days a week, instead of five.
Having visited the restaurant on many occasions, I can commend the service levels from staff with a very positive attitude.
In a more corporate environment, it should be more straightforward to allow employees to have a shorter working week, provided that everyone is aligned on what they need to achieve.
There are many countries in Europe that have reduced the working week and while the long-term results are yet to be seen, it is proving popular with most participants.
Watch: UAE government sets out 4.5-day working week
Remote working and a shorter working week go hand in hand, so organisations that already have employees working partly or permanently from home will find it an easier transition to a four-day week.
It is only a matter of time before other companies follow this example. Early adapters will most likely see the benefits of a happier workforce and will also be seen as more attractive employers than competitors.
With an ever-increasing demand for talented professionals in the region, candidates are looking for more than just better salary or career progression.
There is a focus on what kind of working environment is on offer. Having more flexibility in the workplace is a real differentiator.
The leadership of the UAE and the wider GCC have proved time and time again that they are willing to make bold decisions for social and economic improvements, more so during the Covid-19 pandemic.
When I first moved the region in 2007, Saudi Arabia had a Saturday to Wednesday working week, while for the UAE, it was from Sunday to Thursday.
We are now in a position where the Middle East is much more in line with the rest of the working world. With its strong economies and geographical location, the region will continue to attract international business and a talented workforce.
John Armstrong is founder and managing director of JCA Associates