The holy fasting month of Ramadan is a special time in Indonesia, with nightly celebrations and long days of devout reflection for Muslims and discrete respect from non-Muslim expats and locals. Although for bosses and managers, the month can be a time of frustration with productivity seemingly grinding to a halt.
“The productivity of workers declines in the holy month by 35 to 50 percent as a result of shorter working hours and the change in behaviour during this month,” Samer Sunnuqrot, an economist based in the Jordanian capital Amman, told the BBC.
Unlike Muslims practicing in Muslim-minority countries, like the United Kingdom or Australia, the specific needs of fasting can be taken into account by business and government in Muslim-majority countries like Indonesia or Jordan.
“Decisions and meetings will be postponed until the period of Ramadan is over, especially in governmental institutions. This causes lower productivity and performance and might incur losses for business people because of the postponing of decisions and processing of government transactions,” Sunnuqrot said.
While productivity dips during the fasting month, Sunnuqrot notes consumption tends to rise.
“The positive side of Ramadan for business people is a higher demand for goods and services and higher consumption.
“That often means higher prices, which translates into higher profit margins for merchants, retail stores, restaurants and cafes – especially those which arrange amusement programmes for after iftar (the breaking of the fast),” he said.
Rumy Hasan, a lecturer at the University of Sussex, investigated the economic impact of lost productivity during Ramadan for The Guardian. His research found Ramadan creates a loss of 42 working hours per fasting participant each year, representing an overall 2.5 percent reduction in output annually.
“Productivity declines not only from the physical strain of fasting but from the disruption to the flow and organization of work. It is reasonable to assume that a decline in productivity would further reduce economic output by at least 3 percent each year, which represents a significant annual recessionary impact of Ramadan,” he said.
This decline is due largely to the physical effects of fasting.
“Occupational health researchers have highlighted various adverse health consequences from severe dehydration, including headaches, dizziness and nausea,” Hasan found.
For Muslim-minority countries this loss can be absorbed by the non-fasting majority of the labour force, but in Indonesia, where almost 88 percent of the population identifies as Muslim, this represents a massive issue.
But all hope is not lost for managers and bosses hoping to boost productivity in the office until the Idul Fitri long weekend. While fasting, early mornings and late nights leave workers lethargic and struggling to focus so making the workplace flexible can help overcome some productivity issues.
Beginning work earlier for an earlier finish will ensure workers maximize their energy from the pre-dawn morning meal, or suhoor, while also helping employees make it home in time to break the fast, or iftar, while dodging crippling traffic.
Business consultant Mohammed Faris suggest non-Muslim managers and bosses take part in their own three-day fasting challenge in an effort to demonstrate both solidarity and to better understand the experiences of fasting colleagues.
“If you want to engage with your staff on the challenges of fasting in Ramadan and work productivity, the best way is to actually talk about it and empathize with them. Start a conversation by asking your fasting employees how they consider work would be affected in Ramadan and what could be done about it,” he told mysalaam.com.
United Kingdom news portal Metro recommends tailoring traditional productivity tips for the month, such as goal setting and creating daily lists of tasks. This ensures Ramadan is treated as the special time that it is, while also maintaining good work habits.
Additionally, while it may be tempting to gorge on the traditional treats and meals of the season, keeping healthy during the working week at least will go a long way to maintaining functionality. Lots of fresh fruit and proteins during the morning meals will help keep any participant in great health for a long, productive day ahead. Likewise, avoiding overly sugary and fried snacks in the evening and staying hydrated will keep the body healthy.