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  • Writer's pictureEmily Smith

Understanding Ramadan: What Our Colleagues Need During the Holy Month

Motivated woman on pier at sunset

This week marked the start of Ramadan for many of our colleagues, meaning they will be fasting between sunrise and sunset, which is around 14 hours in the UK.

 

I’ve always been amazed when I’ve talked with Muslim colleagues about how they manage to carry out their job role whilst fasting.


For many of us, there is so much to learn about Ramadan: the purpose of the month, what happens and how we, as non observers, can truly support our colleagues throughout it.

 

It’s difficult to support our colleagues without understanding their personal experiences.


With this in mind, today, I spent some time with one of our brilliant team, Sannah Khan, to understand a little more about Ramadan and the impact it has on her whilst at work.

 

What makes it difficult at work during Ramadan?

 

I’ve worked for companies before that haven’t been willing to recognise my religion and make any adjustments during this time. I’ve been told things such as “it’s not our problem” or I have not been allowed to make any reasonable adjustments to my working hours or role.

 

What impact did that have on you?

 

It felt really demoralising and didn’t feel like my employer cared. On paper, they were all about diversity and inclusivity, but this didn’t really work in practice, and it just didn’t sit right with me. I’m not alone in these experiences, I have a lot of friends and family who have had similar experiences at work sadly.

 

What does a typical day look like for you during Ramadan?

 

I get up just before 4am and have a big meal with my family and then I start work. I work until around 8am and then take a break until 11:30.


A lot of people have said to me that it’s not really feasible to do this, but it worked great for me last year so I’m doing it again this year! I’m actually my most productive during those really early hours of the morning and manage to get lots done!


My break allows me to spend some time with my children in the morning, have a rest and make some time for prayers and even prepping for our evening meal. I then log back on at around 11:30 and work until 3pm.


It really helps having the ability to adjust my working hours and break my working day into two.  

 

What if you didn’t work from home? How would you cope whilst at work?

 

It would be difficult. Whilst I would carry on through, I think I would be exhausted and wouldn’t be very productive by the middle of the day.


I have family members who take a nap in their car during their lunch break. It would be brilliant if workplaces that require on site work could designate a place for people to rest during their lunch breaks.

 

How hard do you find Ramadan?

 

The first week is tough, but then it does get easier when you start to get into a new routine. The second week starts to feel a lot easier and more manageable, I actually feel more focussed and productive by then.


In previous roles, I have felt quite anxious when Ramadan is approaching and what this will mean for me at work. I don’t want to be an inconvenience or make anything difficult I just need a little bit of flexibility and understanding.


It sounds like you think an approach based on trust and autonomy during Ramadan works best?

 

Absolutely. Everyone has a different relationship and approach to their faith. Having an approach that allows staff to choose a work pattern that works for them, giving more flexibility on working times and locations and managing based on output not input.


I feel really grateful and motivated at work knowing that I have been given this level of trust and support.

 

I am sure this increases your loyalty to the organisation as well?

 

Definitely.

 

Why have you decided to work this first week and not take annual leave?


I find it so much easier being at work and having a routine. The weekends are hard when I don’t have much on and I have more time to notice how hungry I am!


The structure of a workday makes the day a lot easier, especially when I have the flexibility to change my work pattern over the month.  In my religion working is also seen as a way of worship which is another reason I like to stay at work.

 

What does Ramadan mean to you?

 

To me, Ramadan is all about self-reflection, giving to others, developing positive habits and family. My oldest boy, 5, has just started to learn about Ramadan and is so inquisitive which has been great for my own learning journey. He loves to get involved and helps with the meal preps in the evening which has been great.


Spending more meaningful time with my family during Ramadan this year was definitely a huge priority for me.  

 

When does Ramadan end and what happens then?

 

It lasts for around 29- 30 days, but we don’t know exactly when it will end until a couple of days before. It depends on the moon sighting and there is an official committee assigned to make the final judgment on this. 


We often go to a spot near my house as a family and try to have a look for the moon which has become a really nice tradition. When it ends, we celebrate Eid. We have a feast and give each other gifts.


It’s difficult not knowing when Eid will fall and often means that some friends and family can’t get leave from work due to requesting it at short notice.

 

What other support do you think organisations can give during this time?

 

Understanding. Appreciating that I may not be in attendance at every meeting unless they are business critical. Being patient if I don’t respond straight away or respond at unusual times. Also being open to approving leave requests where reasonably possible.

 

I’ve supported a couple of clients recently in changing their annual leave policy to allow employees to swap the 4 religious bank holidays for another day leave of their choice. For example, allowing a staff member to pick up a few things from home on Christmas day and then take Eid off instead.


We found that this was easy to accommodate as it was a maximum of 4 days a year, but staff found this change to be really supportive and inclusive.

 

I think that’s great. It’s really positive to see organisations are willing to recognise that other religious celebrations are just as important as Christmas and Easter.

 

Ramadan Mubarak to all our colleagues observing the holy month!


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