3 Simple Changes to Help Foster a More Inclusive Workplace This Ramadan

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This year, Ramadan begins on March 22. These small-business owners explain how to show up for Muslim employees during the holiday.

For one month starting on March 22, approximately 3.5 million Muslims living in the United States will wake up before dawn to eat. They’ll then begin their work day, forgoing food, water, and rest until sunset. This is all part of a period of fasting, prayer, and religious devotion called Ramadan.

While businesses in most Muslim-majority countries opt for shorter work days during Ramadan, U.S. businesses don’t often provide that level of flexibility. Denise Rousseau, a professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, says companies may be worried about a loss in productivity.

But there are other, simpler ways that employers can ensure inclusivity for their Muslim employees–and position their companies for success at the same time. According to Rousseau’s research, businesses with higher perceived organizational support tend to have employees who are more likely to exceed performance standards, more willing to go the extra mile, and more loyal to the company. This leads to boosted productivity in the long term.

Here are three easy tactics founders have employed to support Muslim employees during the Ramadan holiday.

1. Provide a quiet space for prayer and reflection.

Muslims pray five times a day, at specific hours. Depending on the employee’s time zone, at least one of those prayers could fall during the workday. Muslim employees who work in person some or all of the time will typically require a private, quiet space for their prayers, says Ibrahim Ali, the co-founder of Chicago-based 786 Cosmetics, a Muslim-owned halal nail polish brand.

Providing a quiet space for prayers is a reasonable accommodation, as defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But that accommodation might not look the same for every company.

For some employers, the solution could be as simple as reserving a conference room for Muslim employees, says Brad Anderson, the founder of a Denver-based B2B marketing company called Fruition. Companies with more facilities could consider creating a multifaith room, which Roussaeu says would allow Muslims to pray in comfort but would also provide a dedicated quiet space for reflection for all employees.

2. Allow flexibility where possible.

It might not be possible to offer Muslim employees a shorter workday. But there are other options to provide them with much-needed flexibility in their calendars.

Since the afternoon slump is often worse for fasting Muslims, who start their day before dawn, Ali advises rescheduling afternoon meetings. “Meetings require high concentration levels, which are usually at their highest in the morning when people are still relatively alert,” he says.

Akram Abdallah is the co-founder of an Arabic-inspired jewelry brand called Nominal, based in Tempe, Arizona. During Ramadan, he encourages his team of 12 Muslim employees to put in their eight hours on their own schedule.

“We understand that it’s difficult to maintain maximum productivity during the workday without food, water, caffeine, and adequate sleep,” Abdallah says. “We encourage our team to begin their day later or end their day earlier, and if they haven’t completed their required work, they can do so after they break their fast at sundown.”

For companies operating on a hybrid model, another option is to simply allow fasting employees to work from home during Ramdan. Abdallah says this provides a certain level of comfort for those employees, and more opportunity for restful breaks.

3. Reconsider company holidays.

Nathan Minns, founder of Columbus, Ohio-based professional training company Green Light Improv, recently realized that his non-Christian employees didn’t necessarily want time off around Christmas. Instead, they wanted use that time to take days off for holidays and festivities they do observe.

The month-long period of Ramadan includes several such occasions. Friends and family often come together in large gatherings to break their fasts with a celebratory feast. During the last ten days of the month, many Muslims will congregate to read the Quran and do Taraweeh prayers after dinner, which can sometimes go on until late evening. And the month of Ramadan ends with Eid, a Muslim holiday often celebrated with grandeur.

Flexible holiday time can help Muslim employees participate in some, if not all, of these events. That’s why Minns has instituted a blanket policy that provides all Green Light Improv employees with 25 paid days off. They can use those days at any point, including during Ramadan.

“The idea of not limiting holidays to one religion’s holiday is a powerful signal of inclusion,” Rousseau says. “It creates respectful treatment at the time it’s valued for any particular religious group.”