Ramadhan, the 9th month in the Islamic calendar, started on 20 July 2012. Fasting during this period requires Muslims to not eat or drink anything from dawn to dusk. This can have an impact on individuals ranging from boosts of activity during irregular parts of the day through to irregular working patterns.
So, how can you accommodate your Muslim employees and not disrupt business as usual?
Why is fasting necessary?
Fasting is the third pillar of Islam (the others being declaration of faith, prayer, charity and pilgrimage) and is an important tenet for Muslims. It’s not just limited to avoiding food and drink, perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the yearly lesson in self-restraint and discipline that can carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim’s life such as work and education. In addition, many Muslims see Ramadhan as an opportunity to ‘reset’ the system – to think about how they will change their diet, re-charge their spirituality, increase community activity and charitable donations.
Given the diverse nature of the practice of Islam, you will find some Muslims are very strict and protective of their fasting and others will not fast at all – my advice is do not generalise, but assist all your Muslim employees by supporting their choice.
What does a typical day look like?
The typical day of a fasting Muslim in the summer starts at about 2.30am when they wake for the shuoor (pre dawn meal). After this meal and morning prayers, many Muslims will go back to bed at about 4am and then wake for the usual routine of getting to work; others will continue to spend time in worship and then take a powernap before work.
It’s then a typical working day except without the coffee! After work, people tend to go home and have a short nap and then get ready for the meal to break the fast, pray in the mosque and then get home at about 11.30pm. Some will stay up til the pre dawn meal, others will take another few hours’ sleep. A short nap in the afternoon will help to regulate the body (recent neuroscience research shows that a 60-90 minute nap with REM sleep improves both physical and mental regulation for all humans) – appreciating that this is not always practical, but does have very positive impact on our productivity over a 24 hour period.
There are many special activities that take place in Ramadhan – the daily taraweeh prayer being one. This year, these prayers will start at about 10.30pm and finish an hour later. They’re not compulsory, but are highly recommended and the majority of Muslims will partake in them usually at the mosque so they might not get home until late, then having to wake early in the morning for the meal before dusk means that the usual sleeping pattern is out the window.
It’s good for employers to be mindful of this when arranging early morning meetings or dealing with requests to work half days.
The impact on productivity
There has been a lot of research about the impact of fasting on performance – this is no surprise given the Olympics are just around the corner with the dates for Ramadhan overlapping them. I believe the majority of 3,500 Muslim athletes will continue to observe the fast. A couple will fast after the Olympics having been given special exemptions, and some will not participate at all – similar to the decision by Michael Edwards, a devout Christian, in the 1991 Olympics where he did not participate in a Sunday race.
Research shows fasting will have an impact on performance, however it depends on the individual and the results are conflicting. For athletes who have events in the morning, their performance is unlikely to be affected as they will have had a meal a few hours earlier and the energy will still be in their systems. For those with events in the afternoon or evening, it might be an issue.
Relating this to the typical working day, it pretty much matches performance for many people regardless of whether they are fasting or not – most people work better in the morning, then the mid afternoon slump hits in (especially if you have a large lunch!), and evening working can be unproductive. It’s individual and really does depend on your physical and mental make up. Awareness is key, and knowing how fasting makes employees feel will enable you to manage levels of productivity so output is hardly affected.
As a manager or someone in HR, I suggest you look at service needs and see how you can support any requests for temporary changes in work patterns or leave.
What can I do?
Letting your employees know that you’re aware of Ramadhan is a huge help – it takes away the stress for staff wondering how to raise it, and also removes late or unusual requests.
It is reasonable to allow a temporary change in working hours, subject to business continuity; consider requests for annual leave reasonably; and be mindful of breakfast or lunch meetings.
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