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If you're a business operating in a Muslim-majority country, you are probably struggling with staff productivity and performance during the month of Ramadan. The majority of your fasting employees are tired and sleepy, and work seems to slow down. If you are a business owner or manager and happen to be Muslim and fasting, you’ll understand the challenges of long fasting hours and late-night prayers (as well as social gatherings) during the month, so you may be able to sympathize with your employees—but deep down, perhaps you feel that more can be done to improve staff productivity. And if you’re a non-Muslim business owner or manager, then you may find it challenging to find the right balance between asking staff to tend to business needs and coming across as insensitive to the cultural and social implications of the holy month.
"The productivity of workers declines in the holy month by 35–50% as a result of shorter working hours and the change in behavior during this month” Source: BBC
“In the Muslim world, one word encapsulates the economic reality of Ramadan: “slowdown”—meaning that less work is done and more slowly.” Source: The Guardian
I first became acutely aware of the Ramadan productivity challenge while working in a large corporation in a Muslim-majority country. I came across a number of incidents that made me realize that this was not an isolated case of laziness but a systematic change in attitude towards work during Ramadan. I remember passing by a cubicle and seeing a member of staff lie flat on the floor, snoring! In another incident, I approached my boss with a proposal to pursue new business for the company, and he told me to come back a month later because he didn’t want to travel during Ramadan. A recent study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government confirmed this insight; economic productivity drops during Ramadan due to changes in attitudes and beliefs towards work.
So, what should businesses do to counteract this change of attitude towards work? And should they do anything about it in the first place? Or should they simply accept that Ramadan is just another one of those slow business months, like summer, for example?
Through my work and training programs, I’ve come up with a practical, culturally sensitive way for business owners and managers to engage their staff during Ramadan in a way that helps improve their productivity. It’s a three-step process:
- TALK: Ramadan is a great time for you to get to know your staff on a personal level. It’s a month of spirituality and improvement in family and social relationships, so people are overall in a happier mood during the month. If you want to engage with your staff on the challenges of fasting in Ramadan and work productivity, the best way is to actually talk about it and empathize with them. Start a conversation by asking your fasting employees how they consider work would be affected in Ramadan and what could be done about it. If you’re not a Muslim, consider doing a three-day fasting challenge with them and talking about your own productivity from your personal experience.
- EDUCATE: There are a number of resources available online that give practical advice to fasting professionals on how to manage their physical energy during the fasting month. Point your staff towards these resources and consider investing in training specifically addressing this issue. At my company, we offer online and on-site training on Ramadan productivity, including many free resources found here.
- COACH: If you see a member of staff struggling to keep up with the work and you suspect that Ramadan is taking a toll on them, have a 1:1 coaching session with them. Ask them where they are struggling and how you can help. You could remind them of the elements of the training they took on this topic. The added benefit of this coaching is that it’ll keep your staff aware that you’re taking productivity seriously, even during Ramadan.
Whether you’re a Muslim or non-Muslim business owner or manager, the smart thing to do is to engage with your staff and talk, educate, and coach them through this challenging month. I understand that this can be a touchy subject; no business wants to seem to "interfere" or to “blame” Ramadan for the lack of productivity of their staff, but unless you engage, your business will unnecessarily suffer in Ramadan, year after year.
BIO: Mohammed Faris is an international coach, author, and speaker who helps executives, professionals, and entrepreneurs rebalance their lives spiritually, physically and socially to achieve peak performance and live meaningful lives. He’s the founder of ProductiveMuslim.com and author of The Productive Muslim: Where Faith Meets Productivity.
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