Working shorter hours may be more productive

Robert Mogielnicki on working weeks and the case for shorter hours not just in Ramadan but all year round

The majority of productivity tends to occur between the second and sixth hours of work. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
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It is often difficult for an organisation to think beyond its immediate needs, but Ramadan affords employers the opportunity to significantly improve the well-being of their employees. Those employers willing to focus more on happiness and less on productivity may very well be rewarded with more engaged employees in the long-term.

The work week is shorter during Ramadan, but history reveals that working more hours does not necessarily translate into increased productivity.

The Japanese, for example, consistently reduced working hours from the early 1970s but their productivity continued to rise. The United Kingdom was forced to work a three-day week due to industrial action in the 1970s. However, experts were baffled to find that production fell by only 6 per cent. China cut its working hours to 40 per week in 1995, largely in response to human rights issues, but its trade surplus with the United States has grown.

We should understand and respect the limits of productivity. Most studies indicate a significant drop in productivity after eight hours of working.

Moreover, most productivity tends to occur between the second and sixth hours of work. Office workers were found to be especially susceptible to deterioration in performance after six useful hours of work per day, compared with eight hours for more manual jobs.

In other words, shorter work weeks may not have the negative effects that many employers fear in the lead-up to Ramadan. And this makes sense because we know that being busy is not the same as being productive – although it is easy to mistake the former for the latter.

Therefore, employers and employees should worry less about hours worked and more about productivity during the day.

Of course, there are some physical constraints, such as fasting, that complicate an employee’s ability to maintain or improve productivity during Ramadan. But on the bright side, working shorter weeks can increase staff happiness and engagement – potentially offsetting productivity challenges caused by fasting. Few employees would agree that working more hours makes them happier.

Rather, studies have shown that more time spent relaxing, recuperating and enjoying family time leads to happier and more efficient workers generally.

The shorter work weeks during Ramadan, then, may reward employers with more productive staff in the long term. In this way, we can think of Ramadan as the recharging period for employees.

Another way to increase the happiness and well-being of employees, while also ensuring a minimal negative impact on the bottom line, is to ensure that employees are committed to their work and derive significance from their roles.

This is, in essence, the aim of employee engagement, which can deliver major benefits for organisations. For example, the top 25 per cent of companies with the most engaged people produced twice as much profit and 22 per cent higher shareholder returns than companies with the least engaged people. Employee engagement and team commitment can also be enhanced by the less urgent and informal environment afforded by Ramadan and its associated events.

What might appear a short- term gain in working people beyond the stage where they are really effective can be offset by longer-term problems in staff burnout, errors, retention and recruitment problems as well as significant diminishing returns in productivity.

Ramadan is a consistent part of each year, which means that there is plenty of time to weave new activities and programmes geared towards increasing employees’ well-being into a given organisation’s strategy.

The best organisations will spend less time resisting challenges posed by any break from the normal routine and more time optimising the positive effects of the month on well-being.

Robert Mogielnicki is head of PR for Oxford Strategic Consulting, a research organisation with offices in the GCC and in Europe