Worldwide businesses embrace new UAE working week hours

Shortened week gets rid of delays while giving companies more time to do business

The UAE's new four-and-a-half day working week will begin on Monday, January 3, 2022. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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The UAE has announced major changes to its work schedule, shifting to a working week of four and a half days, with weekends to consist of Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday.

“The UAE is the first nation in the world to introduce a national working week shorter than the global five-day week," the state news agency Wam reported.

Businesses around the globe are embracing the move.

"I actually think it's a very enlightened idea," said Homa Bahrami, a senior lecturer and faculty director at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

Ms Bahrami said the pandemic has affected peoples mental health and shifted their priorities. She believes a shorter work week could be just what employers and employees need.

Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council in Washington, said he had travelled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai over the past several months to hold about 100 meetings in preparation for the change.

“I surveyed and canvassed all the presidents and CEOs of all the major US companies,” Mr Sebright told The National.

“In general, everyone is very, very positive about it. It’s a very important step forward aligning the UAE with the work week for basically the rest of the world.”

He said discrepancies in working weeks could create communications delays of up to two days between companies in different time zones and with different weekends.

In general, everyone is very, very positive about it
Danny Seabright, president of the US-UAE Business Council

As a result, Mr Sebright said it often amounted to a six-day working weeks for US employees, who have to send correspondence to UAE businesses on Saturdays to ensure that they receive it at the start of the current Emirati working week on Sunday.

Matt Bailey teaches digital marketing to students around the world and says the change is welcome as it saves him from a six-day working week.

“Being in the US, I have had to teach on Sunday mornings, as that was the beginning of their week,” Mr Bailey said.

“This created a six-day work week for me, as I would work normally work through Fridays, then start on Sunday.

“Most of my students work in the government and they have expressed support for this [change] as the UAE has bold plans for the future and they are gaining international recognition.

“Changing this deeply entrenched cultural tradition was a necessary step for adapting to international business.”

Mr Sebright said the decision would be a major step forwards in the UAE’s ambitions to become a top global centre for international trade and commerce.

“The UAE’s growing ambition here in the next five to 10 years is to catapult from being ... a regional business centre to a truly global business centre in the whole world, being one of those Singapores, Tokyos, Parises, Londons, New Yorks of the future,” he said.

UAE government sets out 4.5-day working week

UAE government sets out 4.5-day working week

“This is going to be one of those steps that’s going to make them go towards that goal while they’re looking at the rest of the countries in the region in the rear-view mirror.”

But while the change in the work week allows UAE businesses to operate more efficiently with global economic powers such as the US, it could mean less efficiency when dealing with businesses in other Gulf countries.

“As Dubai and Abu Dhabi are clearly regional centres, there’s still going to be some co-ordination required with businesses that these offices do locally within the region, which isn’t changing its work hours,” said Mr Sebright.

Getting real

The real estate industry is also welcoming the changes.

As they serve clients in the Middle East shopping for properties in the UK and vice versa, finds that even though half a working day is being lost, the new hours give them more time to do business.

“We are a British-owned company based in Dubai and we are welcoming the change in working week as it allows us to stay aligned with international buyers and sellers from around the world who are doing business in the region,” said the company's chief executive, Mark Castley.

“With most of the transactions recently coming in from international buyers, the new working week gives us an extra day of international business.”

Recent notable sales include a record-breaking Dh86 million ($23.4m) transaction in Dubai Hills Estate, as well as the sale of units in Al Barari, Royal Atlantis and the brand new Palm Tower on the Palm Jumeirah.

A Model to follow

While business consultants around the world applauded the UAE's bold new workweek schedule, some are unsure how applicable it could be in other countries.

In the US, which has some of the weakest federal protections for workers, Ms Bahrami believes changes will have to come from within companies, and will differ from industry to industry.

"Employee wellbeing, employee engagement, minimizing employee burnout, make sure you hang on to your top performers, that is something that's going to be really important for everybody," said Ms Bahrami.

Updated: December 09, 2021, 4:12 PM