Ramadan in the Workplace

Muslim businesswoman wearing hijab in office meeting
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Tips to make your workplace more supportive and inclusive during Ramadan

By Saira Hassan, Nasreen D’Agostino & Sofia Persson

The month of Ramadan recently began, and a lot of people are either celebrating Ramadan or have colleagues in their workplace or organisation that do. Therefore, we would like to take the opportunity to share some tips on how to support colleagues or employees during Ramadan, and on how to express curiosity and interest about Ramadan in a positive way.

Even if you are not observing Ramadan, there are a lot of things you can do (and some you might want to avoid) to make your workplace or organisation a supportive and inclusive space for anyone who might be fasting and observing Ramadan. Below we have compiled some tips for colleagues and employers from two of our colleagues who are observing Ramadan.

Tips for colleagues

  • Make an effort to learn why your colleagues are fasting and observing Ramadan.
  • Ask someone how their fast is going. It is fine to be curious and to show interest or support. Allow your colleagues who are fasting to guide the conversation from there and let them share as much as they feel comfortable with.
  • Remember that Ramadan is not a punishment and Muslims don’t appreciate it being made to seem like it is. You want to avoid saying things like ‘oh gosh, that sounds horrible’, or ‘I could never do that’. Asking questions in a respectful way and showing interest and support is a better way of talking to a fasting colleague about Ramadan.
  • Be understanding if your colleagues are not their usual, bubbly selves. Fasting can take a huge toll on someone’s energy levels. Talking, concentrating or listening for long periods of time can be challenging so thinking about how you communicate with your fasting colleagues during Ramadan can be helpful. If your colleagues appear tired, irritable or quiet, be understanding that this probably has nothing to do with you, but rather that your colleagues have a bit less energy than usual.
  • Be aware that a Muslim may not be fasting at all or for certain periods of the month. Ramadan is never meant to cause harm to anyone and therefore there are many exemptions to fasting. Some reasons a person may not be fasting can be that they are too young, that they are older, that they are unwell, that they are menstruating, that they are pregnant, or that they suffer from a long-term illness such as diabetes. Be mindful of that these reasons might be sensitive for someone to talk about, and that they might not want to go into depth about why they are not fasting.
  • If your workload allows you to do so, ask your colleagues if there is anything you can do to help them out in any way.
  • Many non-Muslim colleagues, friends and employers choose to fast alongside their Muslim colleagues. There is absolutely no expectation or obligation to do this, but it can be a really beautiful way of showing respect, solidarity and understanding. You can decide to share a lovely meal to break the fast together.
  • Be careful to avoid microaggressions. Microaggressions are subtle examples of racism, prejudice or bias that can be unintentional, but nonetheless very harmful. They are sometimes described as ‘death by a million papercuts’. Some microaggressions relating to Ramadan are: ‘Not even water?!’, ‘Are you forced to fast?’, ‘Are you fasting because you’re scared of God?’, ‘Surely God would not want to cause you pain, so why does God command you to fast?!’, ‘How do you survive?’, ‘What do you do if you want to break the fast? Would you? Can you?’, ‘I don’t think children should be forced to starve themselves, it is unethical’. If there is an aspect of Ramadan that you don’t yet understand or that you are curious about, ask about it in a respectful way and listen to those who have knowledge and experience to share.

Tips for employers

  • If possible, provide extra break time for your employees, or provide them with a quiet space to relax, nap, meditate and pray during break and lunchtime. Some people might prefer to skip their breaks and lunchtimes to finish earlier. If this is something that could be made possible in your workplace, ask your employees which adaptations of their breaktimes would be most helpful for them during Ramadan.
  • If your employees’ workdays allow it, offer them to alter the start and finishing time of their day. Many Muslims stay up late in the night to perform special prayers and try to get some more sleep after starting their fast just before dawn. Permitting your employees to start and finish their workday a little later than usual can allow them to get enough sleep and have more energy for the day.
  • If your workplace or organisation allows working from home or has a ‘work from where it’s best’ policy, or even if you currently don’t, but have successfully had policies like these in the past, continue to implement these policies during Ramadan and consider offering this as an option to your employees every year during Ramadan.
  • Respect annual leave requests during the month of Ramadan, especially during the last ten days of Ramadan as they are the most special days of the month.
  • Be mindful of your Muslim colleagues’ timetables when you schedule meetings, try to avoid early morning or late evening meetings.
  • If your Muslim colleagues would be happy to answer questions from their colleagues, set up an ‘anonymous box’ somewhere in your workplace or digitally, where people can post their questions about Ramadan and Muslim colleagues can answer these questions if they would like to.
  • Send an email to everyone in the organisation a few days before Ramadan starts to let everyone know it is starting, that you have colleagues that will be observing, and that this is a time for all to celebrate the diversity in your organisation.

Do you have more useful tips on how to make workplaces more supportive and inclusive during Ramadan? Please share them with us.

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