Question: Some countries have implemented laws that allow workers to disregard unreasonable calls and messages from their superiors outside of working hours without facing consequences, while imposing potential fines on employers who violate this regulation. How should employers based in the UAE respond to this?

Answer: In the UAE, we are positioned at the forefront of the global arena, operating in a 24/7 environment synchronized with international markets. Managing operations across different time zones necessitates a refined approach to working hours. It's not just about putting in long hours, but it does require a flexible schedule that aligns with the global rhythm.

On one hand, I am inclined to embrace this new legislation as a positive stride towards achieving a healthier work-life balance. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of valuing downtime as much as time spent at the desk. It has been observed that when team members disconnect, they return to work revitalized, resulting in increased productivity and efficiency. Conversely, when they are consistently fatigued, despite their best efforts, they struggle to fully engage—underscoring that downtime is as vital as uptime!

We understand that initiatives promoting work-life balance serve as catalysts for enhancing productivity, reducing turnover, and improving the mental and physical well-being of employees. Additionally, we acknowledge that millennials and Gen Z are poised to dominate the workforce, and their perspective on a balanced life is influencing corporate culture towards a more sustainable pace.

They are not merely working for a paycheck; they seek purpose and flexibility—and are on the brink of establishing it as the new norm. These digital natives and their 'work to live, not live to work' ethos are poised to revolutionize the traditional office ambiance.

Reality check

However, I advocate for the 'carrot' approach over the 'stick'. Relying on punitive measures and legal amendments may not lead to a lasting shift in mindset.

Consider a software team developing a groundbreaking application that alerts the public about imminent weather threats. They are in the final stages, resolving the last bug that stands between safety and chaos. Yet, there's a dilemma—the manager, concerned about not allowing employees to 'disconnect', chooses to conclude work, stating, 'Better safe than sorry!' The deadline passes, and the unforeseen storm the next day catches the city off guard. As the streets flood, citizens question why their weather app remained silent, all because of an excessively cautious approach to logging off.

Instead, I propose prioritizing productivity while granting employees the liberty to accomplish objectives within defined parameters.

By empowering employees to decide how and when to complete tasks, we cultivate a culture of accountability and autonomy. In the bustling landscape of the UAE, where business operates round-the-clock and the world is within reach, the traditional nine-to-five rule falls short. Juggling calls with New York at daybreak and emails to Singapore under the starry sky, it's about smart flexibility—working across time zones without allowing it to encroach into the wee hours. While we support adapting the workday to match the global tempo, it's not about burning the midnight oil. Just a slight adjustment in the daily routine to keep the global wheels turning!

Roujin Ghamsari is a seasoned HR professional and a fellow of the CIPD, a leading HR and people development professional body. Recognized as one of the 'Most Influential HR Practitioners 2023', she excels in collaborating with C-Suite leaders to design and execute robust people strategies, enabling organizations to fulfill their strategic goals.