In a move aimed at promoting work-life balance and improving employee well-being, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) federal government has announced a new policy allowing its workers to apply for a four-day work week. Effective July 1, federal government employees can request this arrangement on a case-by-case basis, depending on their work needs and subject to managerial approval.
This development follows Sharjah’s groundbreaking decision last year to implement a four-day work week for public sector offices and schools, making it the first emirate in the UAE, and one of the first jurisdictions worldwide, to adopt such a measure. Remarkably, within eight months of implementing the shorter work week, Sharjah experienced a significant 40% reduction in road accidents and related fatalities, according to a study presented to the Sharjah Executive Council in August.
While the benefits of a shorter work week extend beyond road safety, the UAE’s experience has showcased various positive outcomes. After the shift to a four-day work week, residents of Sharjah reported increased family and leisure time for workers and boosted business for the service industry, which thrives when customers have more free time. Additionally, the inclusion of a half-day on Fridays offers Muslim residents a greater opportunity to observe their holy day and spend quality time with loved ones.
The notion of a reduced work week has garnered support from numerous studies conducted worldwide. Notably, studies involving 1% of Iceland’s workforce demonstrated that productivity either remained constant or increased when working hours were reduced, leading to enhanced overall well-being. Advancements in technology facilitating remote work have prompted the development of labor laws and practices that allow for greater flexibility in working arrangements.
Under the new rules for federal government workers, a shorter work week can be achieved by compressing the standard working hours rather than reducing them. Employees can shift to a four-day work week if they can fulfill their regular 40-hour work requirement within that timeframe, pending managerial approval. Similar provisions were introduced for the private sector in November 2021, provided both employers and employees reach an agreement.
While compressed work weeks may entail longer daily hours for those who opt for them, there is ample evidence suggesting that employees generally prefer this arrangement. A study by Cornerstone, an HR technology firm, surveyed 1,000 American workers and found that nearly 90% of respondents believed that three-day weekends were more effective in relieving stress than longer vacations. Furthermore, a recent study by the University of South Australia revealed that three-day breaks offer health benefits by allowing individuals to incorporate more physical activity and sleep into their lifestyles.
By building upon previous initiatives and emphasizing work-life balance, the UAE federal government’s latest measures make a powerful statement about prioritizing employee well-being. Over time, this progressive approach may inspire greater acceptance and adoption of similar practices worldwide, recognizing that individuals perform at their best when they are happy and fulfilled in their personal and professional lives.