Jun 1, 2017

Fasting, working hours and productivity

The fasting month is not only about avoiding sin or performing acts of worship, but also in applying the same consciousness to what we eat, how we sleep, what to focus on and how to manage our time optimally. AFP PIC
By FAUZIAH ISMAIL

WE are nearing the end of the first week of Ramadan. Some of my friends have settled into a new routine, having made changes to their working arrangements and lifestyle. Among them, there are those who have turned down offers of overseas travel during the month and those that stretched into the Raya period. Some even frowned upon others who do travel during Ramadan as if it is an unthinkable thing to do. There are those who have rescheduled meetings, even important ones, until after Raya.

The government and some companies have shortened the working hours (lunch-break hours are reduced) to accommodate those having to go home early to prepare break-of-fast meals for the family and then rush to the mosque to perform the terawih prayers.

So, with this and more, Ramadan is perceived to be a month of reduced working hours and productivity.

In fact, a 2013 Harvard Kennedy School of Government research by Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott had established causal evidence for a negative effect of Ramadan fasting on economic growth in Muslim countries. Their findings indicated that religious practices can affect labour supply choices in ways that have negative implications on economic performance.

But, an earlier survey by Dinar Standard and ProductiveMuslim Ltd in 2011 showed that 77 per cent out of 1,534 working professional respondents said they try to maintain the same level of work productivity during Ramadan as they do outside of Ramadan. They also feel that work should continue uninterrupted.

The survey was marketed in five Muslim-majority countries (Malaysia, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) as well as five countries with sizeable Muslim minorities (the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Canada, and Australia).

One key implication of this finding was that people do not expect adjustments to their work hours. Only 15 per cent of the respondents thought that work should not be a priority while three per cent responded that nobody works during Ramadan.

The survey also showed that 72 per cent of the respondents agreed that their company’s productivity did not suffer during Ramadan, and that it was business as usual. This response was stronger from non-OIC-based respondents (81 per cent vs 61 per cent from OIC-based respondents). Also noteworthy was that 26 per cent of OIC-based respondents did think their company’s productivity does unnecessarily suffer during Ramadan.

For those countries which average two hours workday reduction (Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Pakistan and Egypt), the total hours lost were approximately 40, which was essentially equivalent to one week of economic productivity. Percentage-wise, this averaged to a 7.7 per cent loss in such a country’s monthly gross domestic product (GDP) value. For those which averaged a one hour workday reduction (Indonesia and Malaysia), the total lost hours were 20, which averaged to a 3.8 per cent loss in those economies’ average monthly GDP value.

Dinar Standard said although a detailed analysis of economic impact would have to be undertaken to understand the full complexity of the Ramadan dynamic, the above assessment showed that the economies suffered roughly four per cent in monthly GDP per hour of work reduction per day.

“Undoubtedly, no dollar value can be placed on spiritual gains and divine blessings of increased worship during Ramadan, but the fact that there are different approaches to work-hour reduction and adjustment do suggest that governments should evaluate whether their Ramadan policies maintain the right balance of work responsibility and spiritual flexibility during Ramadan,” it said.

ProductiveMuslim, in its article “The Ramadan Debate: Spirituality vs Productivity”, said having a productive Ramadan is neither about focusing on the spiritual side of Ramadan only and neglecting (or even ignoring) productivity and work performance, nor the opposite.

“A productive Ramadan is about asking oneself the critical question: How can I be the best version of myself — spiritually, physically, and socially during this blessed month?

“If enough Muslims ask themselves this question and follow through with practical implementation of the latest productivity science that helps them be productive, healthy and balanced human beings, then perhaps in a few years we might get a different result from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government research, one that will say Ramadan not only improves subjective wellbeing among followers, but also improves economic performance and productivity,” it added.

We know of people who are willing to pay a premium to perform umrah in the last 10 days and nights of Ramadan (it is much cheaper outside the fasting month). They want to i’tikaf perform various forms of zikr — the remembrance of Allah — doing extra prayers and reciting and studying the Quran) in either Masjidil Haram in Makkah or Masjid Nabawi in Madinah. One of the nights is also the Night of Laylatul Qadar (the Night of Power), where any action done on this night, such as special prayers, is as described in the Quran as “better than a thousand months”.

But, there are those who see Ramadan as the month of economic opportunity.

I read some years back of a civil servant who took one month off from work to do the food business at the Ramadan bazaar. What he made in that one month far surpassed his month’s salary. And then, there was this makcik who was selling pineapple tarts and cookies at one of the shopping complexes in Bangsar. A few days before Raya, she was nowhere to be found. Her stall was tended by someone else. We asked for her. We were told she has left the country to spend Hari Raya in Rome. She had exceeded her sales target.

As ProductiveMuslim puts it, it is about making disciplined choices — not only for spiritual wellbeing but for physical and social wellbeing — where it is not only about avoiding sin or performing the acts of worship, but also in applying the same consciousness to what we eat, how we sleep, what to focus on and how to manage our time optimally — with the intention of achieving success in this life and the next.

fauziah@nst.com.my
 **The writer is a United Nation’s Journalism fellow and Wolfson College Cambridge press fellow. She has 30 years of experience as a journalist, half of which with the Business Times.

Original source: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2017/06/244613/fasting-working-hours-and-productivity

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