UAE weekend change: One in four private sector firms to switch to 4.5 day week

Employers more likely to offer flexible working for childcare needs than a formal shorter working week

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One in four private sector companies plan to move to a 4.5 day working week, a survey has found.

Global management consultancy Mercer found most companies were supportive of the government's Monday to Friday working week.

Its poll showed 23 per cent plan to follow the decision to give all public sector workers a half day off on Fridays, with the remainder opting for a full five day week.

Schools across the country will adopt the 4.5 day week. Sharjah's public sector and schools will move to a four-day working week with Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a weekend.

Offering staff the choice to work from home, or to work flexible days and or hours, will support talent attraction and retention
Ted Raffoul, Mercer Middle East

Ted Raffoul, Mercer’s career and workforce business leader for the Middle East, said it was clear that companies would have to be flexible.

“Employers in the UAE must continue to offer staff flexibility – particularly for parents given that schools will operate a half day on Friday, and to accommodate religious needs,” he said.

“Offering staff the choice to work from home, or to work flexible days and or hours, will support talent attraction and retention.

“Overall, the shift to the new working weekend in the UAE has strong support from the private sector, but the companies that will thrive as employers of choice will be those that continue to stay attuned to the needs of their diverse workforces.”

Mercer said just five per cent of companies polled said they would stick to a Sunday-Thursday working week and retain a Friday-Saturday weekend.

UAE officials said it is up to companies to make the decision that best suits their business, and have given no instruction or advice to make the Monday-Friday switch.

Mercer's survey of 190 employers showed there was a predictable period of uncertainty.

An overwhelming majority – 84 per cent – said the new working week was a welcome change which would have a positive effect and bring benefits to their business outside the Middle East.

However, more than a third, 37 per cent, were unsure about the effect the change to the working week would have on business in the Middle East.

Companies that trade with the other Gulf countries, which retain the Sunday-Thursday working week, are likely to have flexible working and alternative days off for their staff.

Who has moved to a Monday-Friday week so far?

Financial firms including First Abu Dhabi Bank, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Société Générale have all signed up to the new working week.

Dubai Properties said it was also switching to a Monday to Friday working week, with Saturday also a work day for “some divisions”.

Abu Dhabi Global Market said it would make the change to a working week starting on Monday and ending on Friday.

Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced on Tuesday that it would be doing the same.

The chamber will adopt a nine-hour working day from 8am, Monday to Thursday. Friday will consist of a four-hour working day from 8am until noon.

Case for long-term flexible working

A recent study by recruitment firm Hays said a flexible working policy was the most common model in the UAE, with many opting for two to three days at home and in office alternately.

Sarah Dixon, managing director of Hays for the Gulf, said most have invested such significant sums in home working that it made sense to continue, and has allowed them to cut back on office spending.

She said 21 per cent of companies had decided to either downsize or close their offices completely.

“The majority remain operating in the same premises – with no intention of changing in the short-term,” she said.

“Many have also had to invest significant proportions of budget into technology to enable remote working – money that had been intended for other spends, and which has directly affected companies' bottom lines,” Ms Dixon said.

'Working from home had to end'

One company that has taken the workforce back to the office is Dubai accountancy firm CTC.

Chief executive Caroline Thevenot said the move was in response to demand from clients, who wanted to meet face-to-face.

“People want to meet us and they want to do so in person,” she said.

"It’s also more productive for us to work in the office as it’s easier to speak to each other that way and ask questions if we need to.”

While many companies suffered during the pandemic, Ms Thevenot said her business was able to take advantage of reduced rents and move to a bigger office last year.

“The bigger space means we can easily social distance,” she said.

“Of course we still offer some flexibility with working from home if required, but being back in the office is much more efficient overall.”

Updated: December 30, 2021, 10:42 AM