Date posted: 08/03/2024 5 min read

How can you support workers celebrating Ramadan?

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, businesses can support fasting Muslim employees in a number of ways. Here’s how.

Quick take

  • Working during Ramadan can be challenging for Muslim employees.
  • Businesses can support workers by accommodating leave and flexible work requests.
  • Ramadan offers an opportunity to build intercultural understanding.

Extending this year from Tuesday 12 March to 8 or 9 April (depending on the sighting of the moon), Ramadan is a special time for the Muslim community, and one for reflection and prayer.

It is also a period of fasting and spiritual growth, during which Muslims are expected to abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset each day for the month. An estimated 1.9 billion Muslims globally will observe Ramadan in some form.

Ayman Islam, executive officer at the Centre for Muslim Wellbeing in Melbourne, explains some of the challenges fasting might present and offers advice to help non-Muslim business leaders and colleagues support their Muslim co-workers through this important period.

Be empathetic to fasting staff

When fasting at work, Islam advises people might experience a range of side effects. These can include:

  • Fatigue – fasting can result in decreased energy levels, particularly as the day progresses. This could lead to reduced productivity and difficulty focusing.
  • Physical discomfort – fasting may bring physical discomfort as individuals experience hunger and thirst throughout the day, potentially impacting their physical wellbeing.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns – during Ramadan, Muslims often adjust their sleep schedules to accommodate pre-dawn meals called sahoor (or suhur/sahur), leading to alterations in their sleep patterns. This adjustment may cause difficulties in adaptation and contribute to feelings of fatigue.
  • Cultural sensitivity – Muslim employees may feel self-conscious about their fasting practices and prayer routines, particularly in workplaces where they are in the minority. Expressing their needs or explaining their practices might pose challenges.
  • Social engagement – Ramadan fosters increased social activities, such as evening prayers and iftars (breaking the fast), which may clash with work schedules. Muslim employees may encounter scheduling conflicts as they strive to balance their professional responsibilities with their religious observances.

Islam says colleagues can help by being considerate and empathetic.

“Fasting isn’t easy, so do regular check-ins to see how they are faring and create a safe and open space for them to approach you with any requests,” he says.

Prioritise inclusivity

Islam says there are a variety of ways that firms can create an inclusive workplace during this time to help fasting employees feel comfortable and meet their religious needs.

First, he encourages employees to be open about their religious observance and educate staff about some of the observances in Ramadan.

Second, he suggests businesses do their best to accommodate requests for flexible working hours, vacation time and leave.

Third, he recommends businesses provide a prayer room: a clean and vacant room is generally all that is required.

Islam also advises against scheduling lunch meetings during Ramadan, along with meetings that extend past 5pm.

“It is also very important that Muslim workers be given time to attend Eid ul-Fitr prayers at the end of Ramadan,” he says. “Eid ul-Fitr is the day of rejoicing to mark the end of the fasting month. It is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians. If invited to share in iftar, try to make it… it will be fun!”

He says business leaders may consider incorporating Ramadan into their workplaces by gathering for iftar together, explaining, “A communal event in the office, or heading to an appropriate restaurant, can help build intercultural understanding.”

Finally, Islam says that due to the traumatic events unfolding in Gaza, colleagues should be aware that the community is in a state of mourning during this sacred time.

“It is important to be mindful of the pain and trauma that Muslims, particularly those with ties to Gaza, may be experiencing. Demonstrate compassion, solidarity and empathy towards those experiencing hardship and offer any practical assistance.”