Religious celebrations are an important part of many people’s lives. From a sense of community to personal beliefs, supporting your team’s freedom to practice their religion is something that should not be overlooked. With the Islamic holy month of Ramadan set to start next week, here are some things to consider to make your workplace comfortable for religious observance. 

Understand the Diversity of Religion 

Different religions follow different beliefs, observances, and holy days. It’s helpful to be familiar with all the major religions to support diversity. In the case of Ramadan, this holy month is expected to start on the evening of 2nd or 3rd April this year; and is marked by fasting from sunrise to sunset as well as regular prayer times. This month is followed by Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Breaking the Fast), a celebration lasting up to three days afterwards, with feasts and gifts for the children. 

What is Ramadan? 

First of all, we’d like to say a big thank you to Nazmeen Ahmed from A J Spurrett Opticians for providing us with vital first-hand experience and advice. Her input has been invaluable in understanding and providing ideas for Ramadan. 

Many people associate Ramadan with fasting, and whilst that is a part of it, there’s so much more involved. Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year in Islamic culture and is observed to mark that Allah gave the first chapters of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. This is a time of reflection, prayer, abstinence and family. 

Ramadan is a practice that many Muslims find difficult to balance with work. This annual practice of reflection, prayer, and fasting is not supposed to be easy. During the fasting hours, nothing can pass the lips, not even water, so employees observing the fast may not only be hungry, but thirsty. 

In addition, sleep patterns alter. With the sun not setting until nearly 8pm at this time of year, Muslims observing fast have to eat, then attend evening prayer, and often don’t return home until nearly midnight. They then have to wake early for morning prayer. 

Planning for the Effects of Religious Holidays on Productivity 

Fasting from sunrise to sunset is challenging and requires strong self-control and your team may experience tiredness, especially near the end of the working day. It’s vital that managers understand this natural reaction to fasting and plan accordingly.  

If you have employees intending to fast, talk to them, find out how fasting affects them personally and if there is anything you can do to assist. One of the ways which can help is to actually keep your team busy. Time passes faster for those who are not clock watching and engaging someone’s mind can help take their mind off any hunger or thirst that they are experiencing. 

You can also tailor the day to fit in important work or work which requires higher levels of concentration for when your team is feeling their best. For example, plan routine activities for the afternoon which will be less affected by any tiredness.  

One task that is often overlooked when it comes to accounting for fasting is talking on the phone. Constant talking increases thirst and can make fasting that much more difficult. If working remotely, teams can use emails and messaging services to reduce the amount of time spent on the phone.  

Consider Meetings, Training, and Travel 

Another key area to consider when planning for Ramadan is to plan around prayer and meal times. Your team may find it difficult to find time for prayers, training, and travel so wherever possible simplify things. This may be a case of moving training to after Ramadan or setting aside specific time between prayers to allow for employees to travel and attend meetings, courses, and the like. 

You should also consider checking in on your team to ensure they can take their breaks. Whether for prayer at lunchtime or just refocusing throughout the day, regular breaks are a great way to support your team through their observances. Also encourage your team to carry out their own regular self-checks and ask for additional breaks or any other support that they might need. 

Another concern when it comes to meetings and training seminars is the presence of food and drink. Abstaining from sunrise to sunset takes incredible commitment and many people may struggle to observe Ramadan if food and drink are part of these events. If someone is fasting, don’t offer them food or drink as this may make fasting even harder. 

The timing of social events and meetings is another consideration. Practising Muslims will likely be unable to attend events booked in the evening as they’ll be spending time with family and breaking the fast so avoid organising such events during Ramadan wherever possible. 

Everyone is Different 

It’s important to keep in mind that not all Muslims choose to fast; either through personal choice or for medical reasons. If you notice someone choosing not to fast, or stopping their fast midway, don’t make a big deal out of it. 

Fasting employees may also change over the weeks. For most, the first week is the easiest as fasters still have plenty of energy. As the weeks draw on, your team may need additional support, breaks or alterations so keep communication open throughout.  

Flexible Working Times and Conditions

Being flexible with work times and locations is another way to support your team. Working from home may make fasting easier for your team as they can stay with family and friends who are also fasting. Fasting in isolation can be much more difficult to endure without the support of family and the community. Working from home can allow practising Muslims to control their environment by planning prayers and regular breaks with family. 

It’s not just where but when people work that can be adapted to suit the needs of your team.  

For some practising Muslims, starting very early and finishing early would help. For others, starting later and finishing later can help with sleep schedules. Talk to your team members about their experiences and if possible tailor the workday so they can observe this important time of year while still meeting important work deadlines.   

If you don’t already have a prayer or quiet room then can you create one somewhere in your workplace? This would help to support staff who are fasting as more often than not the only communal area in a workplace is a dining area and again the presence of food and drink in a rest space makes fasting more difficult. 

Paid Leave Requests 

Religious festivals also bring with them increased demand for leave as people plan to spend time with their families and communities. Most Christian holidays are provided for in the UK in the form of bank holidays. This can lead to issues where team members of different faiths have to use their annual leave to observe religious holidays.  

If several people in your team are practising a faith like Islam then you may be faced with a number of people all looking for the same days off. The end of Ramadan and the three-day festival, Eid al-Fitr, are often taken by Muslim employees. This period is incredibly important to the Muslim community so if possible try to prioritise leave for Muslim employees during this time. 

To prevent issues from arising, it is very important to set up policies on religious annual leave to make sure employers and employees are all on the same page on how and when to apply for leave. Plan for religious leave requests and you can accommodate more requests and ensure everyone is allowed the time they need to practice their faith. 

A Little Support Goes a Long Way  

We hope that gives you a greater understanding of what Ramadan is, why and how fasting occurs and how you can support your team.

Do you have questions about Ramadan?

Give us a call at CUBE HR on 01282 678321, we’ll be happy  to advise you and we have policies and templates available to meet every HR need.

Why not check out our blog on a similar topic Protected Characteristics Quiz – How Many Can You Get?

We also have a YouTube channel with loads of handy videos.