Being a supportive employer goes beyond offering free tea and coffee. It’s about taking an interest in what’s happening in your employees' lives and helping them through that time. One area that employers can offer support to employees is during Ramadan.
For those observing Ramadan there’s no question that it can impact them during their working day - whether that’s through their energy levels, their attentiveness or the change to their schedule. But employers can be reticent about offering support during this time, afraid that they’ll do something wrong or be disrespectful.
The very fact that you’re reading this article and asking yourself what you can do for your employees shows that you’re already a supportive employer. Hopefully these simple tips help you extend that support even further.
What is Ramadan and when is it?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and it marks the month the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During Ramadan, most able-bodied Muslims will fast every day from dawn to sunset. Many Muslims will also strive harder to give up bad habits and to abstain from things considered to be impure for body and mind.
The dates for Ramadan change every year as the Islamic calendar is based on the cycles of the moon. In the UK and Asia, Ramadan began on the evening of Wednesday 22 March and will end on Friday 21 April.
Why do Muslims observe fasting?
Fasting during Ramadan was ordered in the Qur’an and is one of the five pillars of Islam. Fasting typically starts when children hit puberty and continues through adulthood for those who are in good health.
It’s thought that fasting is a means of worship and allows Muslims to feel a deeper connection with Allah. Fasting also teaches patience, compassion for those less fortunate and teaches individuals to understand what it means to go without.
Those observing Ramadan will abstain from all food and drink from dawn to sunset. This time of year dawn is around 5.20am and sunset is 6.20pm and with meals being eaten before and after these times it can make for a long day for those observing this period.
What you can do to support your employees
There’s no fixed way to support your employees observing Ramadan. All will be celebrating in slightly different ways. Any support needs to go beyond thinking about what to say to those fasting, and take a more holistic approach to respecting and supporting their religious beliefs.
Making sure your employees have the flexibility to change their hours or take time off are key during Ramadan. Longer nights spent with their families, communities or in worship, and fasting during the day will have an impact on energy levels which can be hard to predict.
Keeping meetings to a minimum, and within core hours, more frequent rest breaks or the autonomy to change their working hours to start earlier and finish earlier will all have a positive impact on your employees.
It is important to balance this with the wider business needs and not make assumptions that these are a given, instead applying them on a case by case basis after discussions with each individual.
During Ramadan it’s likely that two to three out of the five daily prayers will take place during office hours. It’s not unreasonable to designate a meeting room as a prayer room for that period. This small adjustment instantly shows a level of support and understanding towards your employees.
For others, the reasonable adjustment might be foregoing their lunch hour so they can finish earlier. There are small ways that employers can make the lives of those observing Ramadan easier, but don’t just assume, have that conversation in an open manner to truly understand what you can do to support them in the way they need it.
One of the most supportive things you can do is show some compassion and understanding. During Ramadan it’s likely your employees won’t be getting as much sleep as they perform Taraweeh (a long special prayer) until the early hours and then are up for Suhoor at around 4am.
Every person responds differently to this schedule and for some they might be tired, lack focus and have low energy during the day. Showing compassion to those is a great way to show that you care and support what they’re doing.
It’s also showing awareness about company or external events. For instance not scheduling work drinks during this time, as Muslim employees may be uncomfortable attending if alcohol is present. Or if you can delay a team lunch out postponing until after Ramadan. That’s not to say that life shouldn’t go on, of course it should. But if there are things within your control that don’t have to happen in that time, pushing them back a week or two allows that team member to fully participate.
As Ramadan and Eid follows the lunar calendar the exact dates are hard to plan for in advance. It’s thought that Eid will fall on either Friday 21st April or Saturday 22nd April, but it relies on sightings of the new moon so the exact date won’t be known until much closer to the time.
That means there might be some last minute annual leave requests or changes so your employees are off work at the right time.
Building this into your planning and allowing last minute requests for time off is a fairly straightforward way to support your employees during Ramadan. Whether that’s to celebrate Eid, or simply because they need it to help them observe their fasting - particularly in the last 10 days of Ramadan which are considered the most holy. Working with your employees so they can honour both their work commitments and commit to their religious beliefs are signs of a truly supportive employer.
All of these things hinge on one thing. Communication. Actually talking to your employees about what they need, what would be helpful and what’s necessary. Bulldozing in and making assumptions about their experience and needs is a sure fire way to rub your employees up the wrong way.
Instead, having an open line of communication where your employees feel they can come to you to request accommodations, time off or just to share how they’re feeling creates a truly supportive culture, not just during Ramadan, but for any life event for your employees.
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