Six months after it adopted a four-day week, has life in Sharjah changed?

The hospitality business has picked up as more people are eating out and looking to spend time away from home

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People in Sharjah who now work four days a week have said they are healthier, happier, and have more time with their families.

Sharjah rang in the changes on January 1 by introducing a four-day working week after the UAE federal government adopted a Saturday-Sunday weekend, with half a day of work on Fridays.

And, six months on, people in the emirate said they are happier.

It also provides an additional day of weekend trade for businesses keen to serve customers who are now enjoying more leisure time.

The National spoke to people in Sharjah about how their life has changed in the past six months.

Government workers

Emirati Nassir Al Kashwani, 45, who works for the Sharjah Department of Finance, said he is a happier and more engaged parent now.

“I have four children and I'm spending more time with them. I have become more of a friend to them than just a father," Mr Al Kashwani said.

"I have built a strong bond with the children and have discovered more about their interests".

“My eight-year-old daughter has a passion for make-up art. She wants to take courses and become a make-up artist. I was not aware of this earlier.”

He said the one extra day off means his extended family meets once or twice a week. His brothers and sisters and their families gather at their elderly parents' home.

"My parents look forward to meeting all of us and this gives them emotional strength in old age. They feel loved and cared for," he said.

Mr Al Kashwani said before the decision was passed he would go to work tired on Sunday if the extended families met on a Saturday evening.

“Recently it's become more relaxed. We meet the family from my side and from my wife’s side and still have time to relax or do other things,” he said.

Nassir Al Kashwani, 45, an employee at the Sharjah Department of Finance, with his daughter Hajar, 8, at their home. Photo: Nassir Al Kashwani

Mr Al Kashwani is also an agent for football players, working independently to get better them contracts in local clubs, as well as a die-hard fan of the sport. With an extra day off work, he can now watch all the games of his favourite Brazilian team.

“Sometimes, I need to stay up late to watch some games due to the time difference and I used to go to work tired and sleepless but now it's different,” he said.

The three-day weekend also means people go out more and spend more. In business, we call it "retain of earnings”, he said.

“The more people have time, the more they go sightseeing, the more they will shop and dine out and this means the economy will grow,” Mr Al Kashwani said.

Tourism and hospitality

A three-day weekend has been a blessing for the restaurant industry, especially after the pandemic.

Beit Sitti Restaurant in Sharjah’s Al Qasba has seen a big increase in footfall during the past few months as the weather was cooler.

Mr Cliff, floor manager at the restaurant, said tables were full as people had more time off and the weather was good.

“We had many customers coming but now it's off-season so a dip is expected,” he said.

Hotel bookings have also increased in the past six months but it has not been a very substantial growth.

Mohamed Moneim, front office manager at the Double Tree Hotel in Ras Al Khaimah, said many guests come from Sharjah and he expects more people to come for short staycations over the summer months.

“Although the rise in hotel guest numbers is not a remarkable increase, it is an increase nonetheless, and the long weekend is one of the factors that contributed to it,” he said.

“I expect that in the near future the number of guests will further rise.”

Family life

The long weekend rule does not apply to the private sector and it is up to these companies to offer a two or three-day weekend to employees.

Not all have benefitted from the change and some employees even work six days a week.

The new labour law, which came into effect on February 2, gave the private sector the flexibility to decide the employees’ weekends, as long as they have at least one day off per week.

“I work four days while my husband works six days for a private company,” said Tala Saadi, 40, from Jordan who works in a private school in Sharjah.

Tala Saadi, from Jordan, says her children Juman, 10, and Rayan, 7, spend the extended weekend at home watching or playing on their tablets as her husband works six days a week. Photo: Tala Saadi

Her two children spend their weekend at home and are bored, she said.

“We have our lunches alone as usual and do some homework, then my children watch TV or play on their tablets.”

They rarely leave the house because the family has one car, which her husband uses to go to work.

“My children miss their father very much. They ask about him more because now they have more free time on their hands to notice he is gone for long hours,” she said.

“My husband’s one-day holiday is barely enough for him to rest, fix things around the house, buy essential items, visit other family members here, or spend time with.”

Ms Tala hopes the three-day weekend would be implemented in the private and public sectors and across the country.

“I'm sure there are many other families, like mine, who have members who have a long work week.”

The push to enforce a four-day workweek has gathered pace around the world.

In February, Belgium made the switch without loss of salary, while the UK began its trial of a four-day working week.

In Scotland, a government trial is due to start in 2023, while Wales is also considering it.

Updated: June 10, 2022, 9:36 AM
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