Brett Smyth, CEO of EngageME Consulting, explains why the Holy Month offers businesses in the region an ideal opportunity to further engagement initiatives
Dubai, UAE, 02 July 2013: The Holy Month of Ramadan is almost upon us. For Muslims in the region, this period marks a special time of personal and religious reflection, as well as self-discipline, and is characterised by daily fasts and charitable acts of kindness. Yet for Middle Eastern businesses, this pivotal month on the Islamic calendar is often met with trepidation, with many having come to regard it as a looming threat to productivity.
With reduced working hours widely enforced across the region over this period, many businesses have simply come to accept Ramadan as a blackout period in which economic output is severely compromised.
But while the Holy Month does of course present a unique set of challenges for your business, with short-term productivity likely to be compromised to a degree, it also affords you an unprecedented opportunity to significantly bolster engagement levels within your workforce - something that can ultimately have a positive and lasting effect on employee output and overall satisfaction.
Given the fact that much of the regional workforce is made up of non-Muslim expatriates, there's no better time to embrace the fundamental values of this Holy period, and utilise them to enforce a better sense of cultural understanding and cohesiveness within your workforce.
So how do you go about this? Sure there's the stock-standard corporate mailer, explaining the dos and don'ts of Ramadan. Company Iftar dinners have also become a go-to engagement tactic by many businesses in the region. But are these cursory nods to a fundamental landmark on the cultural calendar really enough?
This Ramadan, why not consider taking your employee engagement strategy to the next level, utilising diverse and creative methodologies to leverage employee understanding, promote cultural awareness and further your long-term business objectives. Here are some helpful guidelines to get you started.
Make It Personal
While a stock standard ‘send to all' email explaining Ramadan's significance is by no means an exercise in futility, you're likely to achieve far greater resonance if you let employees speak for themselves.
So why not rather encourage your Muslim employees to share their own experiences of Ramadan? Not only will this create a greater sense of relevance for those with a limited understanding of what this Holy Month means, but it will also serve to highlight some of the unique challenges faced by those observing the fast and customs associated with this period.
Ramadan Awareness Workshops can be very effective in achieving a greater sense of cultural understanding and engagement in your workforce. Too often, members of the expat community tread very lightly around the issue of Ramadan, and rather than asking questions, tend to avoid the subject for fear of offending anyone.
That's why workshops present an ideal forum through which to facilitate meaningful and productive dialogue within your staff contingent, offering less informed employees an opportunity to have their questions answered in a safe and informal setting.
Promote Cultural Solidarity
To further promote a sense of solidarity amongst employees, you might want to consider implementing a company-wide fast, even if it's just for a couple of days during the month. By offering all employees a first-hand experience of some of the challenges faced by Muslim workers during this time of reverence and religious fortitude, you'll go a long way towards facilitating cross-cultural understanding within your workforce.
It's not entirely necessary for you to adhere strictly to Ramadan fasting guidelines, as those unfamiliar with the process might not be physically capable of enduring a complete ban on intake. What's most important here is that you promote a sense of togetherness during this period, and encourage all employees to actively adopt some of the values synonymous with the Holy Month.
Embrace the Spirit of Charity
Charity serves as one of the pillars of the Ramadan period, so it makes sense for you to use this quieter time in the work calendar as an opportunity to further your corporate social responsibility programme.
Not only will this help to reinforce the values of Ramadan within your company, but will also assist in boosting long-term employee engagement. After all, everybody wants to work for one of the good guys.
So whether you choose to host an employee volunteer day, repaint classrooms for schools in need, or engage in desert clean-up initiatives, you can be sure that your charitable acts will resonate – both in the community at large and within the walls of your work space.