Ramadan in the Workplace 2019: HR Best Practices

We recently published a series of blog posts regarding inclusivity in the workplace, and we wanted to broaden the conversation to include people who practice different faiths. The purpose of these articles is to bring awareness to specific holidays or traditions that aren’t widely covered in the U.S. – and to give you tips to make your workplace more inclusive to employees who celebrate them.

Today’s focus is on Muslims at work, and more specifically Ramadan in the workplace.

Don’t know what Ramadan is, but want to learn more to be mindful about what your Muslim colleagues might be experiencing this month? You’re in the right place.

 

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and it’s the holiest time of the year for Muslims. This year Ramadan starts on the evening of May 5 and ends on the evening of June 4. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown for thirty days, with a typical fast lasting 11-16 hours, depending on where you live. Fasting means no food or drink as long as the sun is up – and, yes, that includes water, too.

 

Screenshot of a tweet about not drinking water during Ramadan

 

Jokes aside – Ramadan is about a lot more than not eating or drinking. It’s a time for Muslims to reassess their spirituality, reflect on their blessings, and work on becoming better versions of themselves. As the saying goes, “Ramadan is a time to starve the stomach to feed the soul.”

But it’s hard to get into that spiritual zone without some hiccups.

Imagine waking up to eat before the sun rises (this meal is called suhoor or sehri, by the way!), then going to work at a 9-to-5 with no pick-me-ups between meetings, like coffee or a delicious snack.

 

Screenshot of a tweet about drinking morning coffee during Ramadan

 

On top of that, you’re juggling other priorities outside of the office, like giving your kids your undivided attention or taking your car in for a much-needed oil change. Many Muslims also attend late night prayers during Ramadan called Taraweeh that can last until midnight.

It’s no wonder that a lot of Muslims who fast during Ramadan can struggle with:

  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches (or worse, migraines)

 

Here’s the thing, though. Your coworkers don’t want you to pity them, but they do want you to understand where they’re coming from.

Ramadan may sound taxing, but it’s an auspicious occasion for Muslims that they look forward to each year. There are certain things you can do to make the month more comfortable for your fasting employees that will keep them engaged, productive, and most importantly, happy.

 

Ways to Accommodate Your Muslim Employees During Ramadan

 

1. Let flex workers pick their schedules.

This tip is for the employees who don’t work a typical 9-to-5. Muslims set fasts in the morning (again, called suhoor or sehri) and they break them at sunset with a meal called iftar. Let your employees schedule their shifts around these meals.

This flexibility allows workers to choose times that are convenient for them and when they feel the most productive. Some people may prefer to work early in the morning, right after suhoor, and others might work better late at night after iftar.

 

2. Customize a work schedule for the 9-to-5 crew.

It can be tough to work eight hours straight on an empty stomach. Let your 9-to-5 workers create a custom schedule for Ramadan. Allow them to work from home, or come into work after suhoor then leave earlier. Why not let them work their lunch hour and go home early, too, since they won’t be using it? The goal is to negotiate a timetable that works for both parties.

 

(P.S. If possible, avoid scheduling lunch meetings when someone is fasting! It’s not considerate.)

Gif of Fawad Khan shaking his head no

 

3. Provide private prayer spaces.

Here’s a fun fact – did you know that Muslims pray five times a day (even outside of Ramadan)? These prayers are scheduled at specific intervals throughout the day and usually take no more than five to 10 minutes to complete.

Some of your employees might already have delegated prayer spaces, but some Muslims use Ramadan as a time to become more religious and may be bringing this conversation up for the first time.

Give your Muslim employees a safe (and private) space to pray. It can be as simple as letting them book a meeting room to themselves for 15 minutes, or letting them go to a local mosque for prayers.

 

4. Give them PTO.

Sometimes it can be difficult for employees to balance fasting and work, and that’s normal. Allow your employees to take a bit of time off to settle into their new routine, and understand that sick days are inevitable for some of them. (Working from home is a useful option, too!)

Muslims also celebrate Eid-al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, and it’s the equivalent of Christmas for them. They spend the day eating and drinking with friends and family. Just like you wouldn’t want to work on Christmas, they won’t want to work on Eid either! As a heads up, the rest of the world celebrates Eid for up to three days. Some employees may only take a day or two off, though.

 


 

If this article prompts a lot of follow-up questions, remember that it’s ok to be curious if your purpose is to educate yourself. It’s also important to remember that fasting affects each person differently and that some days are easier than others. Don’t be afraid to ask your employees questions (with respect and reason) to better understand their situation. Most Muslims welcome the opportunity to share their beliefs to bust stereotypes or misconceptions about Islam.

FYI – this is one of many reasons why it’s crucial for managers to keep an open and consistent dialogue with their employees, and vice versa. This method of communication ensures that a company will meet their employees’ needs, as well as their own. It’s a win-win situation!