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We are in the second half of Ramadan. This is the time when usually the energy level has somewhat gone down. We feel some weakness and get tired more easily. We relate this to our effort of fasting and give ourselves good marks about how pious we are. We also take credit about our steadfastness of fasting even in hot weather and working at the same time.
Ramadan brings some reduction in working hours which the employers grant, some more gingerly and some less so. There is a concealed warning that the quantity and quality of work should not be compromised. The pharma salespeople working in the field always have this dilemma with the arrival of Ramadan; to work or not to work in the evening. It was/is a bone of contention though it did not necessarily had to be.
In most organizations, work is counted in terms of number of hours and presences. This is not entirely wrong, unless it is the only measure of performance, which unfortunately it is. Pakistan is a cheap labor market, the availability of which is in abundance. HR planning therefore, is not a big thing in most organizations. The distribution of work is arbitrary and may keep changing with the person, not the position. The position description/ job description is non-existent in most organizations. There may be some document to this effect in those organizations who get ISO certification, but it rarely referred to in practice. PD/JD where available is neither clear nor complete. Important information may be missing. The purpose of PD/JD is to ensure that the employer/manager and employee are clear about what is expected of them. There is a deliberate purpose in keeping things murky; it gives greater freedom for exploitation.
COVID has been here for a year and half. The businesses are fed up with the losses it is incurring. The workers are on the edge about their future. This is true for most organizations. Some businesses are still stable while some others are even flourishing better than the normal circumstances. As is customary, when we face losses, we work more to compensate. But here we are in a situation where counter-competing forces are making it hard to take decisions. A description of these is here.
Ramadan demands reduction in work and stress as a gesture of courtesy. It is not mandated by any law, Islamic or of the land, but it has been recommended to facilitate people so that they can fast more comfortably and pray for longer periods. The practical application varies widely and so does fasting practice. A large majority of workers do not fast because their working conditions do not facilitate it. It looks like that Ramadan Kareem and its blessings do not reach everyone, thanks to our system based on social disparity and moral deficiency. Work time is reduced nominally in offices. Couple of offices I know, do not reduce at all; they just merge the lunch break with work and close that much earlier. Some do it more generously. Employees also show variable behaviors. At one end is explicit laziness attributed to fasting and late-night prayers, and at the other end is business as usual. The majority, however, falls somewhere in between.
It is advisable to start Ramadan with a clear communication about facilitation and work expectation right in the beginning. The communication should come from the top, CEO/Owner. We know, most owner CEOs do not want to communicate with the staff for reasons better known to them. It would be nice to make this change as it would improve employee engagement manifold. Secondly, flexible timing may be offered where possible. It would help employees to plan their personal practices better. Thirdly, a physical concession of less working time is good to have, and it is possible without compromising work efficiency and output. We all know that no one works 8-9 hours continuously. There are tea breaks, smoke breaks and social breaks, accounting for 25-30% time loss anyway. Ramadan obviates these activities and saves time. People are more focused and avoid indulging in usual non-productive activities. It is therefore possible to get more work done in less time during Ramadan.
There is no denying the fact that COVID is raging, and everyone needs to be careful. Employees should be encouraged to stay in their own seats and do not mix up with others, unless extremely necessary. This factor can also be played to greater work efficiency as well as employees’ safety, if it is played right. It is not too difficult to make people understand because it is hitting their health and life directly. An arrangement can be done where many employees come at a fixed time but may leave early after finishing their work. Many positions are involved in carrying out background or routine work, and these may be considered for leaving early in order to reduce the bioburden and chances of COVID spread in the offices.
Work does not have to be reduced or compromised during Ramadan. It is even truer for COVID, which has no departure date as yet. We should not live in a state of emergency and tentativeness indefinitely. Life has to and should carry on.
Ramadan and COVID are both demanding relief for employees, but relief and work loss are not mutually inclusive. These can be managed simultaneously.
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