At the start of 2022 the region of the United Arab Emirates changed its weekend from Friday – Saturday to Saturday – Sunday, though, this wasn’t the first time this has been changed. Up until 2006, the weekend was observed between Thursday and Friday keeping in mind that Friday has, historically, been observed as a holiday to ensure that Jummah – or Friday prayer – can be observed by worshippers.
With these new changes, plus the rise of hybrid working and potential for a four-and-a-half day working week, there comes the opportunity for businesses to maximise working with international clients over an extra day. However, not all are fans with some reports on social media stating that some residents are finding it hard to acclimatise to the change that happened so quickly.
To hear how the new working week will impact business and brands in the marketing sector, LBB’s Natasha Patel spoke to key players in the UAE market.
Ali Rez, regional executive creative director, Impact BBDO Group MENAP
I moved to the Middle East from the US, and it took me a full three years to get used to the Friday/Saturday weekend, so personally speaking, now I have to do the flip and get used to Monday being the new Sunday. Given that the UAE is a heavy expat market, the change will be positive for a large number of people. However, a large chunk of what we do is within the region so a number of people will find themselves having to juggle. I’m just happy I wrote this at work on a Monday, and not at work on a Sunday.
Charney Magri, partner, Do Epic Sh*t - Global
I cannot tell you how amazing the working week change has been. When you work virtually with teams all around the world, hours can already be quite varied from very early mornings to quite late night. But add in different weekends and this meant our core leadership team were often doing some form of a six-day week.
This weekend change in the UAE has not only aligned our core team but has also allowed us to spend more (quality) time with our clients outside of the region, which ultimately gives us more time together to get epic sh*t done! Plus, it’s put the meaning of a Sunday roast back on the map!
Lina Nader, creative director, Wunderman Thompson Dubai
It’s a little sad, I think! It was kind of nice to know that while the rest of the world was hustling, powering through that last weekday, our little city was sleeping in, heading to the beach or brunch or both, and staying up late into the night. Having grown up in Dubai in the ‘90s, I will always associate Fridays with family roadtrips to the beach, our bags loaded with snacks from the neighbourhood baqalah [supermarket] and excited at the prospect of a day in the sun. Learning to love Fridays was a symbol of coming to a new place, adapting to the local customs, and making this city my home. So, while the rational part of me understands just how great it is that the UAE has made this commitment to sync up with the rest of the world, I will always miss this small but meaningful part of the UAE’s charm.
Mazen Jawad, CEO, Horizon Holdings (Horizon FCB MENA, BPN MENA, GolinMENA, Blue Barracuda, Fuelcontent)
After two years of constant change in our work-life balance following Covid-19 and its aftermath, the subject of change became an expected part of our lives, working with caution and care minding our families and colleagues between home and office.
At some point, working from home seemed like a seven-day a week lifestyle managing clients’ expectations, our regional network and our global headquarters working on Fridays. The change of the UAE weekend to Saturday-Sunday came as a positive decisive change during a time of an undecisive lifestyle. It was positively welcomed in our industry bringing us a bit closer to our global networks (agencies and clients) and maybe a bit more distant from our regional offices, though I feel change will travel soon throughout the GCC nations.
This is surely a positive decision in a great nation that is constantly planning and evolving as a global hub. It’s also a boost to our economy, business, travel and hospitality unifying our life with the rest of the world for a nation with an expatriate population that represents the majority of the country. Never Finished, we expect the UAE to keep surprising us with decisions that keep adding value to our lives.
Mounir Harfouche, CEO, MullenLowe MENA
For me this shift is nothing but a confirmation that the UAE has moved from being a regional player to officially becoming one of the main global players on many fronts. As a progressive and agile nation, the UAE keeps evolving its strategy and offering to strengthen its positioning as one of the most advanced and attractive on the global map.
The shift has two sides of it: The well-being of people and mostly employees as this new shift secures a better work-life balance. The government has always planned with the happiness of people at the core of its strategy. It is now one of the first countries to announce a 4.5 days workweek for the public sector and it kept the flexibility to the private sector to choose. This agility promises to empower people to spend more quality time living while adopting a more agile way of working that increases business efficiency.
On the economical side, the benefits are many. As the UAE is becoming a top choice for global businesses, creators, inventors, entrepreneurs and investors, this shift will be another strategic advantage to connect all international industries and multi-nationals to the rest of the world and vice-versa. Equally, for the banking sector this means that the operating hours will be in line with the main global markets and this has a major impact on the local financial and economical scene and yet another advantage compared to the region. Of course, the shift is expected to contribute positively on many other sectors including trade, travel, tourism, F&B, entertainment and shopping amongst others.
Natalie Shardan, managing director, Serviceplan Middle East
The weekend shift from Friday-Saturday to Saturday-Sunday is, in my opinion, a progressive shift that will help improve work-life balance, while also attracting and retaining talent in the UAE. Some private companies are also applying the half-workday on Friday so that resident Muslims are still able to attend the afternoon prayer.
For us as an advertising agency, Friday will remain a full workday, but we have asked all of our employees to work from home on that day. Not only does this give our Muslim colleagues the freedom to attend the Friday afternoon prayer, but it also bolsters every employee’s work-life-balance.
We have noticed that the overall pace on Fridays is slower because of the transition into the weekend, allowing people to take it easy, attend their afternoon prayers, and have a less stressful end to their workweek. This definitely was not the case when the weekend was Friday-Saturday. Despite the expected adjustment period, it is a positive change overall; one that will further align us with the global markets and keep our employees happier.
Tahaab Rais, chief strategy officer
People seem to have adapted conceptually to the fact that Sunday out here isn’t a working day anymore. But people have found it challenging with Friday being a working day, as it has been a sudden shift in rituals - especially among Muslim families in the UAE.
You see, Friday is a religious day for Muslims. One has the obligatory Friday prayers in the afternoon and the family gatherings and supplications after in the evening - all of that has come to a stop for many people. It’s a policy change for business and the Government has been accommodating with providing two hours’ break for those who pray to enable them to fulfil their religious obligations.
But there are many companies flouting those rules and fixing meetings during prayer times. I’ve seen friends and former colleagues face these challenges. That shouldn’t be the case and the government mandate should be followed. It speaks volumes of culture, diversity and inclusion policies of a company when these challenges are faced by employees.
There are companies that are being flexible with Fridays though, and allowing people to work from home on those days, and that is to be appreciated as that helps people not compromise on what matters.
Yasmina Rajab, senior communication executive, TheCreative9 Beirut
The United Arab Emirates is one of the first countries in the Gulf region that implemented the weekend change from Friday and Saturday to Saturday and Sunday. This one-day change might seem like a simple reshuffling of days, yet it has a much greater impact on the nation when you look at it from the bigger picture.
The UAE has become on the forefront of the business world; hence this shift will not only bring the UAE closer to regional and international markets, but it will also let companies in the UAE do business for one extra day.
As a senior communication executive at The Creative9 agency, based in Beirut, this means that our project deadlines for UAE clients are a bit more flexible since we’re no longer running on four working days per week. We have more time to breathe, brainstorm and manage deadlines as well as client expectations. On another front, this one-day shift has also improved our work-life balance as employees working from Lebanon, especially that we no longer have to worry about emails, group chats and urgent requests coming in on Sundays (which are considered a weekend here in Beirut).