Note: The strategies listed here were compiled through my lens as a Muslim, West African, and American woman. What I’m sharing in this blog post doesn’t represent the thoughts or ideas of all Muslims. If you want to support your Muslim employees or colleagues, please contact them directly, as their practices and strategies may differ from what’s listed in the post.
Three years into the pandemic, we’ve witnessed many shifts within workplaces related to return-to-office policies. Some offices are now one hundred percent remote, a few have fully returned to the office, while many are adopting some form of a hybrid model which allows employees to work both in the office and remotely. About 74% of companies in the United States are using or planning to implement a permanent hybrid work model.
For employees who were used to a remote model at the start of the pandemic and are now transitioning to the hybrid model, there can be both positive and negative impacts depending on how well the workplace and employees manage this model. This is especially important for Muslim employees and employers (and other religious groups) who may want a workplace environment where they can observe prayers and fast while being productive at work. In honor of Ramadan beginning on March 22 this year, I’m reflecting on ways both employees and employers can co-create a healthy work environment that allows Muslim employees to fulfill their spiritual and religious desires or duties when possible.
Employers or managers may need to understand Ramadan and their employees’ or direct reports’ spiritual commitments or practices during this month. While many Muslims have learned to adapt in Western or non-Muslim countries and workplaces, it can be a good feeling to be accepted, seen, and connected to our deen (religious path and way of life) when certain accommodations are considered and made on our behalf at work. If you’re interested in creating an inclusive and positive work environment for Muslims who observe fasting and prayer, here are a few tips:
- Offer flexibility: A hybrid work environment can offer more flexibility in terms of scheduling and location. Perhaps your Muslim employees can commute during days and times that align with their Ramadan schedule (e.g., coming in early after morning prayers, working from home on Fridays to go to the mosque for Jummah prayers, logging off early so they can prepare iftar, etc.)
- Provide education: Not everyone will know everything about Islam, which is understandable. Also, as someone trained in social justice topics and practices, I recognize the negative impact of religious domination on many communities. With this in mind, awareness and education can look like sharing articles or resources in your virtual space (e.g., email or slack message) or hosting a virtual or in-person event or training for all staff who may want to learn more or are looking for tips and strategies on how to support their Muslim colleagues.
- Create space or offer physical space for prayers: Beyond Ramadan, some Muslims pray five times a day during specific times. In a hybrid model, there could be a private and quiet physical space where people can pray, and employees may need multiple breaks while working to pray virtually.
- Host a virtual or in-person iftar: If Muslim employees are interested in sharing space with their colleagues as they break fast, an employer-sponsored iftar can be an intentional way for colleagues to learn more about the religious practice and also normalize religious/spiritual practices in the workplace.
If you’re observing Ramadan this year, you may already have practices that support you in getting your work done while fasting. You know yourself better than anyone else, so these tips may just be reminders or additional steps you can take and incorporate into your workplace this year and other years to follow.
- Give yourself grace: While everyone observing Ramadan may not feel this way, some may feel like they’re not performing their best or aren’t “perfect” enough at work. The truth is that abstaining from food and liquids, among other things, and staying up late/waking up early to pray aren’t necessarily easy. There will be times when our brains and bodies are active and alert, and there will be other moments when our energy levels are low, and we can only do the bare minimum. You may not be able to commute on certain days or want to be mostly virtual during the month if you can. Ramadan reminds us that we’re not meant to be robots and that it’s okay to rest and reflect, especially if we have workplaces that support us in doing so.
- Ask for what you need and adjust: People may not necessarily know what your energy levels are like each day of Ramadan or what you need to do to feel like you’re making the most of the holy month while also doing your work. During in-person meetings, you may want to talk less to conserve energy or decide to use your “lunch break” to walk, nap, or pray instead. Whatever it is, just ensure you can communicate this to your manager and colleagues when necessary.
- Create a schedule/block off certain times on your calendar: Depending on your employer or manager, you may have the opportunity to leverage a flexible schedule. Making a note in your calendar or sharing the times you’ll be in the office or offline might be helpful to remind yourself and your colleagues about your capacity. This might look like blocking off all meeting times after 4 pm or asking colleagues to schedule meetings or presentations in the mornings versus the afternoons.
- Leverage the times when you’re alert to work on big projects: When we fast, our body may experience a drop in blood sugar levels, leading to fatigue, weakness, and difficulty concentrating. For others, we may experience increased focus since energy is being directed toward the brain instead of digestion. Depending on how fasting impacts you and your body, take the time to work on strategic projects when you’re most focused or alert and leave the rest of your tasks that might be less mind-demanding during the times when you’re tired or least focused.
Finally, if employers or employees are interested in additional strategies to co-create a successful Ramadan this year, check out our post from 2020: How can we support our colleagues who observe Ramadan during COVID? As a bonus, here’s a funny video my manager shared with me a few weeks ago if you’re in the mood to provide extra support to the Muslims in your lives.
Ramadan Mubarak to all those observing this year, and much gratitude to those interested in supporting their Muslim colleagues.