One year on: the impact of the UAE's new working week

The need to be available for clients in other GCC countries means Sunday can still be a busy day for some in the private sector

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A year has passed since the UAE made the milestone move of changing the weekend, a reflection of the international make-up of business in the Emirates.

Initially introduced only for government workers, the private sector was quick to fall in line and life in the Emirates quickly adapted to a Monday-Friday working week.

Also introduced was a four-and-half-day week for schools and government employees, which was reduced further to four days in Sharjah.

Improved working hours for some

The switch to a Monday to Friday working week came with plenty of benefits for some, with their schedules now aligned with clients in other parts of the world.

Nikita Sachdev, chief executive of Luna PR, welcomed the change in the working week. Photo: Luna PR

"When I first moved here to work two years ago, from the US, it was quite a shock to be operating on a Sunday to Thursday week," said Nikita Sachdev, chief executive of marketing company Luna PR.

"It was a bit awkward because clients in other countries would still be messaging us on Fridays, and then they would be off on Sundays when we were back from the weekend. It meant those days were kind of spent in limbo.

"When the Monday to Friday week was announced, I was so relieved and it changed the entire dynamic to be aligned with western countries.

"It took away the hassle of trying to cram everything in from Monday to Thursday with those clients."

The switch in the working week has also boosted happiness and productivity for some companies in the UAE, when staff could match their schedules with family abroad. Productivity also received a boost when business that might have been missed due to misaligned schedules could now be catered to.

"It has also impacted our employee happiness as the new working week is aligned with other countries, which means they have the same weekends with their families and extended families based abroad," said Hilmarie Hutchison, chief executive of Matrix PR.

"Operations have become smoother. Before, we would lose out on opportunities because of delays in approvals or payments because of what was effectively a three-day weekend."

Other side of the coin

But did the change to the working week lead to some people working longer hours than before? Whereas many were grateful to no longer need to respond to international clients on Fridays, others with more local business felt the impact of still logging in on Sundays.

“One of the major drawbacks is that other GCC countries didn’t follow and are sticking to the Sunday-to-Thursday model,” said David Mackenzie, group managing director of recruitment firm Mackenzie Jones.

“In some ways, it’s been more difficult for some because if you are doing business with companies in other GCC countries, they want you to be available on Sundays and not Fridays.

“You can end up getting sucked back into having to work on a Sunday to answer emails or phone calls.”

DUBAI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 28FEB2017 - David Mackenzie, the CEO of Mackenzie Jones at his office in Dubai. Ravindranath K / The National ID: 54117 ( to go Jessica Hill for Business) *** Local Caption ***  RK2802-Mackenzie07.jpg

While the switch to a Monday-to-Friday working week was optional for the private sector, a report from recruitment company Hays said the majority of companies in the UAE had made the move.

“Most organisations and employers embraced the transition, with the changes having a positive impact on employee well-being,” said Kieran Fitzgerald, senior operations director for Hays in the Middle East.

“Almost 12 months on, some employers are reporting an increase in employee satisfaction, productivity, and engagement.

“As the only country in the GCC to adopt these changes, there are some challenges, including differing schedules and less efficiency with regional business partners and colleagues which, in a small number of cases, is resulting in an increased workload from Monday to Thursday.”

Working weekends

One Dubai resident who finds himself having to work during weekends is Sameer Sehgal, an Indian who works in the software industry.

“I often have to work during weekends now because clients who are working on a Sunday in other GCC countries expect you to get back to them right away,” Mr Sehgal said.

“If you don’t, you will end up losing out on that business.

“Family time also becomes an issue because you find that you’re unable to switch off. You have to be prepared to be in constant communication with clients, to the point where it is a massive distraction.”

The change in the working week was not the first time the UAE had made such a move.

Friday was the only non-working day in 1971, this was the case until Thursday was added to make a two-day weekend in 1999.

Then the model was changed in 2006, with Friday and Saturday becoming the weekend.

Another expert said the changes had meant some people were now working during their weekends, because of the need to be in constant communication with clients in neighbouring countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

“I wouldn’t say it has quite created a six-day working week, but people have to be available on Sundays as well to deal with issues that arise that day,” said Shiraz Sethi, head of regional employment with law firm Dentons.

“What it has done is put more pressure on people to ensure they answer emails on their day off.

“It’s not such a problem for people working in senior management roles because they get paid a lot more, but it has created tension for people in middle or junior positions.”

Updated: January 01, 2023, 7:02 AM
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