Ramadan: should your workplace offer flexible working?

07 June 2016 -


Flexible working and diversity-led management styles will enable bosses to help their observant staff through a physically demanding stage in the calendar

Jermaine Haughton

This week, millions of Muslims across the UK will have began fasting as they participate in the religious festival of Ramadan. This year, employers will have to be particularly mindful of the physical pressures on those participating, as a long and hot summer is expected.

Depending which Islamic group or mosque participants adhere to, Ramadan will have started for many on June 6 or 7, and is likely to end between July 5 and 7 with the major feast celebration of Eid ul Fitr.

Marking the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, the holy month focuses on fasting, giving to charity and prayer. Scholars also believe the Quran, the holy text in Islam, was first revealed during the ninth month. The dates of Ramadan, which are determined by the moon, move forward by 10 or 11 days each year in a 33-year cycle.

For the 2.7 million Muslims that live in England and Wales, according to the latest census, each day they will often wake up in the early hours of the morning to eat and drink ahead of sunrise and their daylong fast.

At sundown, the daily fast is broken with the iftar meal, which usually consists of dates, sweet drinks and desserts. Those who are under the age of 12, pregnant or under medication are exempt from fasting.

With this year’s Ramadan coinciding with key UK school examination for 16-18 year old’s, concerns have been raised by headteachers about the impact on Muslim pupils’ exam performance, during a long period without food.

Despite recommendations from the Association of School and College Leaders to bring forward A-level and GCSE examination dates, exam regulator Ofqual declined the request. Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of Ofqual, issued a public letter to her counterpart at Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, declaring: “I would like to confirm that exams have not been moved this summer to accommodate Ramadan, nor is there an intention to move them.“

Regardless of age, however, British Muslims are set to face the most challenging Ramadan for more than 30 years, according to weather forecasts, with long summer days creating the shortest possible window for breaking their daily fast.

As Ramadan overlaps with a summer solstice this year, meaning early dawns and late sunsets, in certain parts of the UK Muslims will be without sustenance for as long as 20 hours a day.

“We had a taste of this last year, but this year it’s even more challenging,” said Ibrahim Mogra, assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. “But this is all part and parcel of the experience, and most Muslims take it in their stride. Maybe a few more will take advantage of the exemptions available to the elderly, frail and those on medication.”

Although some Muslims may opt to take annual leave during parts of Ramadan, most Muslims maintain their work schedule during this period, by adjusting sleeping patterns and taking measures to counter hunger and thirst.

Unsurprisingly, however, the combination of a lack of water and food, long days and a fast-paced work environment can lead even the most focused employee to feel substantial fatigue.

Here are five ways you can help Muslim employees to stay focused during Ramadan.

1. Flexible working hours

With Ramadan taking place during the summer, the effects of not eating or drinking for many hours is likely to be exacerbated. Employers can help their Muslim staff by offering them the opportunity to take a later lunch hour at a later time, so they can break their fast during that time. Also allowing Muslim staff to start their work day an hour or two later than usual can allow them to catch up on sleep, while for other staff allowing them to finish their day early (at around 3pm) can prevent them working when they’re tired and drained of energy. (Source)

PR account executive Mevi Kauser, who will be observing Ramadan, told us: “Ultimately though, Ramadan shouldn’t be a time that you are treated drastically differently, but the days are long and to ensure maximum productivity it would be nice for managers to show some understanding and flexibility.”

2. Prayer room and facilities

Muslims are required to pray five times a day for approximately five to ten minutes and, particularly during Ramadan, adherents are likely to place significant importance on the practice. Therefore, employers would be well advised to provide a secure room for Muslim workers to pray during the month. As well as providing a clean and private environment for Muslim employees to pray, it allows for workers to return to their desks swiftly afterwards. If staff are required to be committed to a desk space at certain times it may be a good idea to agree on allocated times in which they can read their prayers. (Source)

3. Avoid work social gatherings

Bosses should also be careful about organising work social gatherings during the period of Ramadan. During the day, many Muslims may distance themselves from areas where there is food or drink, and during the evening they are likely to be at home and with family observing the religious festival. Therefore, if companies do hold social team events during Ramadan, they should consider that many Muslim staff might decline the invitation. And don’t expect Muslim colleagues to join you in taking a client out for a meal, for example. (Source)

4. Raise awareness

Small gestures, such as writing about Ramadan and its importance to Muslims in company newsletters and putting up posters around the office, can help all employees, particularly those unfamiliar with Islam, understand the festival. Making Muslim staff feel comfortable in balancing their religious and work obligations, and sharing those experiences with colleagues can help quash misconceptions.

"Muslims have to remain constant in acts of worship, and also to work hard to earn a living and support their families," says Saiyyidah Zaidi-Stone, author of the Working Muslim. "Ramadan should not be used as an excuse for not working to one’s usual level of commitment and productivity and it is important to remember one’s obligations to employers." (Source)

5. Review health and safety guidelines

Bosses should be vigilant in making sure Muslim staff are coping well health-wise during Ramadan, and staff should be allowed regular breaks to get some fresh air and splash water on their faces to regain concentration and focus. Furthermore, companies must make special considerations for Muslim employees working heavy machinery, as fasting can reduce physical strength and fatigue, and this combination could put the operator and others at risk of hurt. (Source)

Employers should have a short risk assessment of affected staff and discuss ways of relieving physical pressure on them, such as changing their work schedule. (Source)

According to Yosie Saint-Cyr, managing editor of HRinfodesk: “These workers can become dehydrated and this can cause serious health problems (i.e., headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and lightheadedness ), especially if they are performing tasks and jobs that require them to work with machinery, or at heights that exposes them to high temperatures etc. As a result, employers need to take additional precautions to protect such workers from the potential hazards.” (Source)

For more thoughts on these issues, sign up to the forthcoming CMI event Intercultural Communication and Working Relationships.

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