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 on the 12th of April, 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 runs from Monday the 12th of April to Wednesday the 12th of May 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 Muhammed. 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 8 PM, Muslims observing fast have to eat, then attend evening prayer (and may now be able to visit the Mosque, COVID-19 restrictions permitting), often not returning 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 no easy feat and your team may experience lethargy, especially near the end of the working day. It’s vital that managers understand this natural reaction to fasting and accommodate 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 things.
You can also tailor the day to fit in important work when your team is feeling their best. For example, plan rote 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 your timetable. 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.
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 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.
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 can allow practising Muslims to control their environment by planing 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 tailor the workday so they can observe this important time of year while still meeting important work deadlines.
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 large number of people all looking for the same days off. The end of Ramadan and the three-day festival, Eid, are often taken by Muslim employees. This 10 day 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! If you need a hand creating guidelines or planning for Ramadan then give us a call.
We put your business, customers, and teams first and foremost. We believe that happy employees make happy customers which, in turn, creates a thriving business. If you need help with the busy Ramadan period or a full HR package we are here to help. We also offer a free HR Health Check and Risk Assessment and are ready and waiting to answer any other questions you may have. Contact us now and experience award-winning HR services.