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Productivity in Ramadan 2011 Report

Expert Commentary by Farah Ghias, HR Consultant, GCC/USA

For HR departments in non-OIC countries, the challenge falls in balancing the needs of Muslim employees with organizational priorities.  There are a number of reasons why an HR department in a non-OIC country would have an interest in becoming more accommodating to its Muslims employees’ needs during Ramadan.

Diversity, in particular, is an increasing concern for organizations trying to reap the full benefit of a diverse workforce.  Diversity initiatives are driven by high profile firms, concerned not only with legal compliance, but also with the business case for diversity.  Employers with reputations for encouraging inclusiveness, tolerance, and diversity are more likely to benefit from a widened talent pool.  Attracting a heterogeneous workforce also requires that organizations be inclusive when designing policies and procedures in order to better accommodate and retain the diversity they attract.

Organizations that have not reached the level of valuing diversity for its business case may still be driven to pay attention to diversity in order to avoid litigation.  For example, under US employment law, “employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.”

Poor HR practice towards diversity generally stems from a lack of awareness.  Understanding Muslim practices and employment preferences during Ramadan would help ensure that reasonable measures were taken to accommodate them.   A look at the most practiced activities during Ramadan can give employers insight into the kind of accommodation Muslim employees may require.  Examples include providing a quiet space to perform the daily prayers, or avoiding the scheduling of night shifts to allow Muslim employees to attend Taraweeh prayers.  Relatively minor adjustments that are unlikely to cause disruption to work can significantly increase satisfaction levels of Muslim employees.

In the balancing act between employee demands and organizational productivity, the bigger challenge OIC countries face is maintaining productivity.  Employees in OIC countries are generally satisfied with the accommodations made by employers during Ramadan (74%). Although 77% of respondents believe that work should continue uninterrupted during Ramadan, 26% of OIC respondents believe that their company’s productivity suffers unnecessarily.  Organizations would benefit greatly to identify the causes for these unnecessary drops in productivity.  Furthermore, whereas 76% of OIC organizations set special working hours, 77% of respondents feel that they try to maintain the same level of work productivity during Ramadan as they do outside of Ramadan.  Thus, shortened work hours may actually hinder employee desire to maintain similar levels of output during Ramadan as they accomplish outside of Ramadan.

Having said this, high percentages of employees desire a higher level of spirituality during Ramadan.  So although it may be unnecessary to significantly reduce working hours during Ramadan, organizations should not create undue work pressure that consumes employees’ time outside of regular work hours, in order to allow time for spiritual activities.

In both OIC and non-OIC countries, HR departments should regularly consult staff and management to help find the optimal balance between employee needs and the needs of the organization.

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  1. Conducted a survey to determine actual Ramadan practices and expectations of Muslim workers, and
  2. Looked at Ramadan work-hour differences in various Muslim majority countries and its resulting economic impact, and to suggest areas of Ramadan productivity improvements.
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