Changing the Female Working Structure in the U.A.E. Workplace  

Changing the Female Working Structure in the U.A.E. Workplace  

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Changing the Female Working Structure in the UAE Workplace

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of the Study

Female nationals in the United Arab Emirates are increasingly participating in the workforce and having to balance between their career obligations and their family duties. However, unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, the working Emirati women rely heavily on foreign domestic workers to fulfill their childcare and domestic tasks while they pursue luxurious lifestyles. Unfortunately, the children of young Emirati families are being raised by their foreign nannies in a manner that erodes their Emirati culture alongside exposing them to health and physical risks. Moreover, even though the organizations they work for have attempted to implement initiatives to enhance a healthy work-life balance, there lacks evidence to demonstrate that these programs are reducing the long working hours of the female nationals or the number on immigrant domestic workers in Emirati households.      

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Emirati women are increasingly pursuing individual goals at the workplace such as career progression and professional satisfaction, which enhances satisfaction with life outside the home. As such, the pursuit for professional success and satisfaction is causing these women to spend significant amounts of time at the workplace and in work-related activities, thus reducing the time spent with families. However, family relations are held dearly by the Emirati society and the Emirati women are expected to perform their domestic duties and rear children, despite their increased participation in the labor market. Indeed, the rapid modernization Emirati society and its ongoing transformation of the gendered traditional perspectives are presenting social dilemmas to the working Emirati women. Moreover, the heavy reliance on immigrant domestic workers in Emirati households, which is worsened by the high involvement of Emirati women in the workforce, may be influencing the upbringing of Emirati children adversely due to culture conflicts. There is concern that the Emirati children are not acquiring the Emirati culture sufficiently because of spending more time with culturally-diverse domestic workers rather than their working parents, especially their mothers. In the same vein, working Emirati women tend to switch careers or exit the workforce because their mindsets are misaligned with those of the organizations they work for. However, it is not clear how the working Emirati women are navigating the social dilemma presented by their active participation in the workforce.  

Already, existing evidence indicates that long working hours lower the quality of life of employees by reducing the time spent by the employees with their families. Moreover, the Emirati government is focused on enhancing the living standards of women by creating an environment that facilitates women to pursue stability, security and happiness, as espoused in the UAE Vision 2021. However, the employee turnover among the Emirati women remains high, at 64 %, despite many organizations in the country addressing various work-life balance issues. Indeed, most UAE female nationals worked in the public sector due to the better benefits, higher salaries and reduced laboriousness compare to the private sector. Yet these working conditions have not deterred the female nationals from changing or exiting the organizations. Moreover, the effectiveness of the work-life balance initiative in Emirati organizations has not been ascertained, though evidently, the programs have not improved the retention of the women employees in the country. Although flexible hours are a component of work-life initiatives, their existence and application in Emirati workplaces has not been studied. 

1.3 Need and Justification of the Study

This study is motivated by the low quality of life among working Emirati nationals alongside the overreliance on foreign domestic workers in the households of working young Emirati parents. The working structure in organizations in the UAE has not embraced the work-life balance strategies that would enable the working Emirati mothers to enjoy a healthy quality of life with their children. Moreover, although many organizations in the country are aware of these strategies, the public sector, which engage most of the Emirati female workforce, has been slow to apply them compared to the private sector. Indeed, the public sector continues to practice the standard 40-hour per week work times, indicating a need for a change in the working structure. Such a change may help reduce the long working hours for Emirati women alongside lowering their reliance on immigrant domestic workers for children care and domestic chores. Indeed, for the female workers, changing from an hours-based working structure to a task-based one may reduce the number of foreign domestic workers and improve the quality of childcare. Besides, these changes may reduce the high female employee turnover, while improving their health and productivity.       

1.4 Research Aims and Objectives

This study aims at determining the influence that flexible working hours would have on the quality of life of the working UAE female nationals based on the level of employee performance, lifestyle and number of domestic workers. Therefore, the objectives of the study are:

  1. To determine the influence of flexible working hours on the quality of life of working Emirati women
  2. To determine the effect of flexible hours on the workplace performance of  the UAE female nationals
  3. To determine the influence of flexible working hours on the lifestyle of working Emirati women such as partaking in physical exercise and hobbies
  4. To determine the effect of flexible working hours for Emirati women on the number of domestic workers in their homes

1.5 Research Questions and Hypotheses

The research question is whether more flexible hours for the female Emirati workers would reduce the number of domestic workers in their households?

To answer this question, the following hypotheses will be tested.

Ho 1:   There is no significant correlation between more flexible hours for the working UAE female nationals and their performance.

Ho 2:   There is no significant correlation between more flexible hours for the working UAE female nationals and their lifestyle.

Ho 3:   There is no significant correlation between more flexible hours for the working UAE female nationals and their quality of life.

Ho 4: There is no significant correlation between more flexible hours for the working UAE female nationals and the number of domestic workers in their households.

 1.6 Definition of Terms

Annualized hours:                   Employee-formulated work times within a prescribed time boundary that is calculated per year

Bishkar:                                   Domestic worker

Compressed workweek:          Work time arrangement that allows employees to work long hours during shifts in return for fewer working days weekly.

Flexi-time:                              The freedom to choose when workers start and end their work day

Part-time work:                       Work engagement for less than 40 hours per week or a fraction of the day

Harem:                                    The separate sphere of women in the UAE

Long working hours:              A working period extending beyond 48 hours a week

Part-time work

Quality of work life:               The quality of the relationship between employees and the total working environment comprising of economic, technical and human dimensions.

Staggered hours:                     Work time arrangement allowing employees to start work at their convenient times provided they fulfill the stipulated hours

Standard shift:                         A daytime working period comprising of a 35-40-hour week spread across five days

Time bind:                              The apparent imbalance between work and family/personal commitments due to the lack of time to meet both    

Work-family conflict:             The push and pull between work and family obligations

Work-life balance:                  A state of equilibrium between the demands of work and personal life

1.7 Limitations and Basic Assumptions

The study is limited by the brief time frame, which hinders the evaluation of the effects of the proposed female working structure, considering that the outcomes of the proposed organizational change would take time to materialize. Moreover, it is assumed that all other work-life balance strategies have been ineffective in improving the quality of life for the working UAE female nationals and their children. Besides, it is assumed that public and private organizations in the country employ similar work-life balance strategies.     

2.0 Literature Review

2.1 Current Knowledge about the Problem

The increase in the workforce participation by UAE female nationals has been accompanied by a large number of immigrant domestic workers in the country. The enlarging female workforce in the county has been boosted by the progressive and facilitative policies undertaken by the UAE federal government (Jabeen, Friesen & Ghoudi, 2018). Similarly, the pursuit for a luxurious lifestyle alongside the longstanding Emirati culture has facilitated the high demand and the increasing numbers of foreign domestic workers in the country (Sabban, 2002).    

2.2 The Relevant and Pertinent Literature

Nine publications dating between 2001 and 2018 were selected for their relevance and pertinence. Published literature comprising of 4 peer-reviewed journal articles, 3 organizational publications, 1 book and one thesis were used to conduct the review. 

2.3 Organization of the Review and its Justification

The review was organized thematically, starting with the general background of work-life balance concept and its evolution and gradually narrowing down to the current UAE context. In addition, a mixture of government and privately-generated evidence was reviewed. The review from the general to the specific context was used to help contextualize the study and unearth the specific knowledge and gaps about the topic.    

2.4 Discussion of the Review Findings and Implications

2.4.1 Work time history and trends

Golden and Figart (2013) provide an extensive overview of the working time trends across the world in their book, Working Time: International trends, theory and policy perspectives. They asserted that while a 40-hour working time standard had been established across the world in the 20th century, some countries had longer working times while other had less, based on diverse cultural, economic and technological influences. For instance, they noted that while countries such as the Czech republic, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States exceeded the 40-hour standard, others like Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the united kingdom had a significant proportion of employees working for less than 10 hours a week (Golden & Figart, 2013). As such, although inter- and intra-country differences in working times existed, there was a general increasing trend of working times across the world. Moreover, Australia, Europe, New Zealand and the United States were experiencing an increase in differentiation and flexibility in work times (Golden & Figart, 2013). Altogether, they argued that work time patterns would impact households as more people joined the labor force, although they could not project whether these trends would benefit or harm workers (Golden & Figart, 2013). 

2.4.2 Work-life balance

However, concerns about work-life balance can be traced back to the advent of the industrial revolution in Europe and their focus has evolved over time since. Guest (2002) traced this evolution by observing that at first, the focus work-life concerns was on the influence of child labor, and thereafter, during economic downturns, the focus shifted to unemployment, currently, work-life issues focus on the extreme demands of work, particularly in affluent societies in the developed world. Notably, these issues persist to date and are increasingly emerging in developing nations, despite the great advancements in technology. Indeed, technological advancements have promised to increase leisure for workers in highly-developed western nations, on one hand, while threatening to present mass unemployment, on the other hand (Guest, 2002). Altogether, the work-life debate has been shaped by the developments of work, which have presented problems, consequences and challenges of work-life balance (Guest, 2002). In the same vein, Lockwood (2003) observed that current challenges related to an aging workforce, renewed interest in personal lives and family values, and global competition exacerbated the work-life balance.

A notable study involving 800 business professionals and reported in the famous book by Friedman and Greenhaus titled, Work and Family-Allies or Enemies published in 2000 revealed that work and family were the leading responsibilities for most working men and women, and could either aid or impair each other (Lockwood, 2003).   

Organizations were pursuing the win-win solutions presented by addressing work-life challenges because of their promise to enhance a competitive advantage in the marketplace (Lockwood, 2003). Similarly, workers were attempting to realize a work-life balance by eliminating the time bind through alternative work schedules such as part-time and other nonstandard work shifts like night and non-Monday-to-Friday shifts. In as early as the 1990s, only one in every three employed people in the United States worked the regular shift typified by 35-40 hours a week from Monday to Friday during the day. This trend has been ongoing, with child care justifying the one-third of men and half of the women working nonstandard work schedules (Tausig & Fenwick, 2001).  

The time bind occurred when the demands of work and family/personal life were imbalanced (Tausig & Fenwick, 2001). In a study that examined the influence of alternative work schedules on the time bind, Tausig and Fenwick (2001) revealed that perceived work schedule control enhanced the work-life balance although alternate schedules did not eliminate the time bind. Besides, being a parent and the hours were the most consistent family and work characteristics, respectively, predicting work-life imbalance (Tausig & Fenwick, 2001).

Parakandi and Behery (2016) argued that while employers were responsible for facilitating the achievement of a healthy work-life balance among their employees, many barriers hindered the attainment of this goal. The barriers included organizational cultures that promoted career progression and long working hours, negative attitudes and resistance among supervisors and senior managers, obstructive and secluded work environments, and deficiencies in the awareness, education and communication about strategies for enhancing work-life balance (Parakandi & Behery, 2016). 

2.4.3 Effects of work-life imbalance

Long working hours have been shown to diminish the health wellbeing of workers because they increase the likelihood of injury and illness (Golden, 2012). Golden (2012) argues that working for periods extending beyond 48 hours per week can cause fatigue and work stress, which affects the workers’ health adversely. Moreover, depression and poor self-care are common symptoms of overworking. Unconventional working shifts such as evenings, nights, and afternoons presented workers with the risk of illnesses such as hypertension and sleep disorders, and fatigue-related injuries like back pains (Golden, 2012). He goes on to note that in the United States, about 3 in every 10 workers reported feeling overworked (Golden, 2012).

 Hoherz (2017) studied the influence of parenthood on work-family life in Germany and the United Kingdom and provided insights into the work hour strategies employed by young parents to accommodate their children. Although the employment of both parents was prevalent in these countries, fathers tended to work fulltime while mothers were variably engaged at the workplace, with many of them working part-time. The study revealed that although parents working extended hours spent less time with their families, the work times of both parents were interdependent. As such, fathers tended to reduce their work time when their spouses took up employment while mothers returned promptly to fulltime work after childbirth to alleviate the employment insecurities of their partners (Hoherz, 2017). The age of children and workplace structures influenced the interdependence in work times among the parents. Moreover, although traditional gender norms were changing gradually, with fathers taking up childcare and housework and mothers engaging in employment, work times were influenced by the families’ socioeconomic status. As such, parents with low household incomes experienced adverse effects on family life due to long working hours, which affluent parents could afford to restructure their working times to spend quality time with their children (Hoherz, 2017).           

2.4.4 Working time in the U.A.E.

The United Arab Emirates had undergone monumental changes since its establishment in 1970, energized by the oil era. Notable changes were in the increasing women participation in the workforce and public sphere, which was dominated by men previously, consequently extending their harem (Sabban, 2002). The workforce participation of Emirati women had almost quadrupled in the first two and a half decades of the country, from 0.37 % to 1.18 % between 1975 and 1995 (Sabban, 2002). Indeed, emiratization and heavy investments in education alongside the UAE Vision 2021, which sought to eliminate the inequalities between Emirati men and women in all spheres of life was responsible for the increasing participation of women in the workforce (Jabeen, Friesen & Ghoudi, 2018). Currently, 20 % of UAE female nationals participate in the country’s labor market, with 98 % of them being engaged in the public sector (Jabeen, Friesen & Ghoudi, 2018). However, although the UAE Federal Government reported that the public sector provides more secure, less strenuous and higher paying jobs with better benefits compared to the private sector, high employee turnover rates were prevalent. Notably, 4.2 % of the Emiratis employed in ministries and federal agencies exited work, with 64 % of them being Emirati women. The misalignment between organizational and individual way of thinking caused the high female employee turnover in the UAE, despite many organizations in the country addressing work-life balance concerns (Jabeen, Friesen & Ghoudi, 2018).

Households in the United Arab Emirates have relied heavily on foreign domestic labor traditionally (Sabban, 2002). Which the UAE government has discouraged this trend because of the negative media publicity and complacency among the Emirati women, the influx of immigrant domestic workers continues unabated due to the government-citizen social contract in which the Emirati government is assured of political control by guaranteeing its citizens a leisured lifestyle (Sabban, 2002). However, in addition to the tensions and insecurities surrounding the high proportion of expatriates in the UAE, making Emiratis the minority in their country, the high reliance on immigrant domestic workers was causing social challenges in the country. The foreign domestic workers were impacting the Emirati children negatively, particularly in their values, language and socialization alongside child mistreatment, health risks and abuse of Islamic norms (Sabban, 2002). Sabban (2002) revealed that many studies accused the Emirati women for abandoning their childcare obligations while preferring luxurious lifestyles, thus encouraging unproductive families. Moreover, immigrant domestic workers were associated with criminal activities such as adultery, theft, murder and violation of immigration laws, thus endangering the Emirati society (Sabban, 2002).        

2.5 What has been Learned?

The work-life strategies used by the government organizations differed from those by the private sector. Specifically, the public sector organizations offered maternity leave, paid leave for religious holidays, part-time work options and study leave as the flexible work arrangement, while largely retaining the standard 40-hour per week work time. Contrastingly, the private firms embraced modern work-life balance strategies such as flexible working hours, job sharing, and a variety of shift options.     

2.6 What are the Gaps in Knowledge?

Considering all the work-life strategies employed by public and private organizations in the UAE, none of them included the changing of the female working structure from hours-based to task-based work times. As such, evidence on whether such an organizational change would reduce the long working hours of the working Emirati women or the demand for foreign domestic workers, was lacking. Therefore, the relationship between the long working hours, family relations and the percentage of domestic workers in Emirati households needed to be studies, considering that most studies were performed in developed countries. Moreover, the UAE presented unique political, legal, cultural and traditional characteristics that were not captured by other studies.    

3.0 Research Approach and Methodology

3.1 How the Study will be Conducted and its Justification

A qualitative research will be conducted using the phenomenological model. The qualitative approach is preferred because of its ability to provide detailed information explaining complex organizational issues using data that is relatively easy to analyze in a limited period. The phenomenological model was chosen because of its focus on participant perspectives about organizational practices such as work-life strategies and their influences.   

3.2 Research Design

A survey will be conducted because it is able to achieve the objectives of a phenomenological study. Besides, it can collect a vast amount of data using a variety of data collection methods under time constraints. Moreover, it is cost effective, convenient and highly representative of the population. 

3.3 Steps to be taken in the investigation

After the approval of the proposal, a questionnaire shall be designed and piloted to improve the quality of its items, and guarantee its reliability and validity. The instrument will be administered online to consenting participants. Upon their return, the questionnaire data will be cleaned, coded and analyzed to deliver results that can be used to answer the research question.  

3.4 Population, Subject and Sample Selection

The participants will be drawn from the working population among Emirati nationals. These participants will be drawn from public and private organizations in the UAE. Purposive sampling will be used to select employees that work the standard 40 hours per week schedules. Purposive sampling enables the selection of participants that are expected to have information relevant to the study.

3.5 Data Collection

A questionnaire will be used as the data collection tool, which will be administered online. It will comprise of two sections. Section A will collect demographic data such as age, gender, highest educational achievement, family type, length of working experience, type of organization, and work-life strategies used at the workplace. Section B will gather information related to the perceptions about changing from an hours-based to a task-based work structure, and the influence such a change would have on personal and family obligations, long working hours and demand for domestic workers, and the wellbeing of children. a combination of closed-end and open ended items will be used, with some of the closed-ended items providing responses on a 5-level Likert scale.    

3.6 Ethical issues and procedures

Participants will be required to provide their informed consent to take part in the survey after being briefed on the purpose of the study. Ethical research standards will be maintained by ensuring that the participants do not disclose information that can be used to identify them. Data confidentiality will be guaranteed and the participants will be allowed to withdraw from the survey at any time. However, because the participants will not undergo any interference or ingestion, there are no concerns about their health and safety during the study.

3.7 Measures of outcome

The expected outcomes of the study include the shortening of long working hours, increase in quality of life among employees and their children, and reduction in the number of domestic workers in the employee households. Ultimately, the viability of improving the work-life balance, child wellbeing and reduced demand for domestic workers by changing the hours-based work structure to a task-based one will be inferred.    

3.8 Procedure for data analysis

The questionnaire responses will be cleaned of missing data and response inconsistencies such as multiple responses when only one choice is required. After that, the data will be coded and entered into a statistical program (SPSS). Data will be analyzed descriptively, with the correlations between various the independent and dependent variables being determined using the spearman’s rank order correlation coefficient. The independent variable is the more flexible working hours while the dependent variables include the long work times, quality of life, work-life balance and number of domestic workers. The hypotheses will be tested using the analysis of variance (ANOVA). Statistical significance of the tests will be 0.05.   

4.0 Project Plan, Timetable Schedule and Resources

4.1 Work Plan

The work plan is detailed in the schedule presented in table 1.

Table 1. Gantt chart of the study schedule

ActivityDuration (weeks)Weeks
Proposal approval1        
Questionnaire formulation and piloting1        
Participant selection and approval1        
Questionnaire administration1        
Data entry and analysis3        
Report writing3        

4.2 Resource Requirements

The study will require a computer installed with SPSS. Internet connectivity and printing services will also be needed.


Golden, L. (2012). The effects of working time on productivity and firm performance, research synthesis paper. International Labor Organization (ILO): Conditions of Work and Employment Series no. 33.

Golden, L., & Figart, D. M. (2013). Working Time: International trends, theory and policy perspectives. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Guest, D. E. (2002). Perspectives on the study of work-life balance. Social Science Information41(2), 255-279.

Hoherz, S. (2017). Parents between Work and Family Demands in the UK and Germany (Doctoral dissertation, University of Essex).

Jabeen, F., Friesen, H. L., & Ghoudi, K. (2018). Quality of work life of Emirati women and its influence on job satisfaction and turnover intention: Evidence from the UAE. Journal of Organizational Change Management31(2), 352-370.

Lockwood, N. R. (2003). Work/life balance: Challenges and Solutions. Research Quarterly, SHRM Research, USA.

Parakandi, M., & Behery, M. (2016). Sustainable human resources: Examining the status of organizational work–life balance practices in the United Arab Emirates. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews55, 1370-1379.

Sabban, R. (2002). United Arab Emirates: Migrant women in the United Arab Emirates. The case of female domestic workers. Working paper no. 10. International Labor Office: Gender Promotion Program.

Tausig, M., & Fenwick, R. (2001). Unbinding time: Alternate work schedules and work-life balance. Journal of family and economic issues22(2), 101-119.

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