Updated: December 9, 2021 9:13:44 am
At a time when most of us are waking up screaming from nightmares about Zoom meetings that get scheduled on the weekend or work deadlines that coincide with down time, the UAE has pulled off something revolutionary. The country has introduced a four-and-a-half day work week, becoming the first in the world to have a national work week that’s shorter than the global five-day week.
The UAE’s new work week has been instituted to serve two purposes. The first is aligning the country with nations that follow a Saturday/Sunday weekend and strengthening economic links with them. But it’s the second one that has a more universal resonance — boosting worker productivity and improving work-life balance. It is not a coincidence that the UAE’s move should come even as countries like the US and the UK reel under what is being called The Great Resignation, with record numbers of people quitting their jobs. The pandemic may have driven many to quit their jobs, thanks to the phenomenon known as Covid burnout, but the situation was far from ideal even before the virus erased whatever faint lines that people had managed to draw between their work lives and personal lives. The meandering, seemingly endless virtual meeting may have become our chief bogeyman only since March 2020, but the 3 am work text was a very real horror even before then.
Contrary to what those who oppose shorter working hours fear, the promise of assured rest only makes people more productive, with the proper amount of leisure time recharging them enough to work with greater motivation. This was proved by Iceland’s nationwide trials, run from 2015 to 2019, that reduced work hours without reducing pay, resulting in less stress and burnout, with productivity being unaffected or even improving. More leisure also makes sense from an economic perspective: As time frees up for leisure activities, related sectors, such as travel, sports and entertainment, see growth. The UAE has already seen the wisdom of this. The rest of the world shouldn’t lag behind.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 9, 2021 under the title ‘The long weekend’.
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