In office for 60 hours a week: Are UAE residents some of the hardest-working in the world?

According to a WhatsApp poll by Khaleej Times, which was answered by almost 9,000 people, most respondents work 50-60 hours a week


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Wed 29 May 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 29 May 2024, 11:20 PM

Dubai resident Dr Ahmed works almost 55 hours every week. On alternate weeks, the dentist practices seven days a week. “I work full time for 6 days a week, 8 hours a day in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

“Every alternate Sunday, I work with a clinic in Dubai. Most of it is during the evenings because that is when patients want to see us. That is also the reason why weekends are extremely busy for us.”

His is not an isolated case. According to a WhatsApp poll by Khaleej Times, which was answered by almost 9,000 people, most respondents work 50-60 hours a week. Almost 5,800 respondents said they worked up to 60 hours a week. More than 2,000 said they work 40-50 hours a week.

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However Dr Ahmed, who works in Abu Dhabi and commutes between the emirates every day, admitted that it leaves him little time with his family – including his two daughters. “My elder one, who is 7, is getting ready for bed when I reach back,” he said. “So, I help with her bedtime. My wife is also a healthcare professional. As soon as I get back home, she goes to sleep. Then, I am the primary caregiver of my 7-month-old infant. I get to spend a few hours with her and then put her to sleep. So life is all a balancing act now, especially after our baby was born.”

Similar to the Khaleej Times poll, a survey by communications agency duke+mir has revealed that the UAE is the world’s second hardest working country – clocking in an average of 50.9 hours per week.

Dr Ahmed said on Sundays, he always spends quality time with his children. “Sometimes we go out or we play together,” he said. “I make sure I put away all my devices and spend time with them. I go to work only during the time when they are asleep and I put in minimal hours there so I can be back by the time they wake up.”

Long working hours

According to experts, working long hours could cause irreparable damage to the human body. “While handling a one-off, high workload might be manageable, our bodies and nervous systems are not built for such prolonged stress,” said Noona Nafousi, CEO of Neo Noor. “If sustained over long periods, these can significantly damage our quality of life. Chronic overworking can lead to severe physical and mental health issues.”

However, for many Dubai expats, long working hours are part and parcel of daily life. According to Mohammed Noor, a delivery rider with a UAE-based company, he works 12 hours a day, six days a week. “That is what our contract says and that is what we have to do,” he said.

Another study by Business Name Generator said UAE residents work 52.6 hours per week, ranking the country third – after Malta and Bhutan.

In such cases, Noona says it is possible to achieve a work-life balance. “When long hours are unavoidable, instead of striving for a perfect 50/50 balance, the goal should be to find harmony,” she said. “Being fully present during work hours and then completely switching off during personal time is crucial. This takes a lot of practice if one is not used to it.”

Calm and peaceful mind

On the other end of spectrum is Mansoor Ali, owner and managing director of Ecogreen Contracting and Landscaping, who works an average of just three hours a day. “I believe in the power of delegation,” he said. “I delegate all my work to my employees. I have trained them to take ownership of their departments and work independently. The only rule I have is that they also must not work a minute over their assigned working hours.”

Mansoor uses the rest of his time to pursue his hobbies like travelling and to focus on his education. He is currently pursuing a PhD. “I believe that a calm and peaceful mind is a sharp one,” he said. “I enjoy my free time and like to spend it with my family. I also make it a point to never set a target for my company or my employees. Setting targets puts unnecessary pressure on them and me and this takes away from their ability to work to the best of their abilities.”

His words were supported by Dr Gurveen Ranger, a Clinical Psychologist with Sage Clinics. “Ironically, the longer hours we work the lesser productive we become,” she said. “Long hours will take it’s toll on our concentration and mental capacity, so when we are cognitively stretched, our processing speed, flexibility of thought – all gets impacted.”

Cutting down on hours

PR professional Houri Elmayan worked for 12-14 hours at agencies. “On some days, when I had nightlife clients, I would work from 9am to 3am with very little breaks in between,” she recalled. “These hours led me to give up the agency life and start my own firm. My primary goal was to gain work-life balance because I had zero time to invest into myself and my relationships.”

Today, as a mother of a 3-year-old, Houri only works from 8am to 2pm, after which she heads to pick up her daughter. “By changing my work hours, I saw a massive change in my life,” she said. “It is only after starting my own hours that I was able to fix myself from a health perspective. I was able to cook well, eat well, exercise and even do some physiotherapy to fix some issues. It is only after this that I met my life partner and we got married. I feel like I should have done it much sooner.”

According to an expert, one of the reasons why people work long hours is because of 'Eustress'. “It is a form of stress we experience when we get a buzz and excited to get something done,” said Monica Mathijs, founder of Monica Mahi Consulting.

Monica Mathijs
Monica Mathijs

“We believe we can work, put in the hours, and it feels good. When working on something which has a known beginning and end, in our minds, we can start to process the need to work longer hours as we are enjoying the process and are getting eustress from it. When we reach the end goal, we feel a sense of accomplishment.”


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