- Dubai was ranked the most overworked city in the world in a recent study conducted by Kisi.
- Expats working in the city said they have a good work-life balance.
- A psychologist says people should still be careful of burnout in the fast-paced, transient city.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Colette Sullivan, a 30-year-old hotelier from the UK, works what is by many measures a very standard workweek.
"My days are not always the same due to the nature of my job, but my hours are generally 09:00 until 18:00 with an early finish of 17:00 on a Friday," Sullivan told Insider. "After work, I will be going shopping, catching up with friends, or, in the winter months, catching the last of the sun outdoors."
In fact, the regular nature of her week is remarkable mainly because she works in Dubai, which was named the world's most-overworked city in a study conducted by cloud-based access-control company Kisi.
For the study, which was released on May 25, Kisi evaluated a range of factors, including paid time off, cost of living, access to mental healthcare, and inclusivity. Kisi shortlisted 51 US metropolitan areas and 49 global economic hubs, including New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Paris, and analysed data pulled from international organisations, NGO reports, open-access datasets, public surveys, and crowdsourcing platforms.
Insider spoke to five people who live in Dubai to understand what it's like to work in the world's most-overworked city. Despite the long hours they clock, all sources said they, like Sullivan, have a good work-life balance.
A culture of work-life balance
According to UAE labour law, private-sector workers can clock in a maximum of 48 hours a week spread across six days. Workers also get 30 days off paid annual leave and 45 days of fully paid parental leave.
Saurabh Bahl is a 36-year-old insurance account risk engineer who's been working in Dubai for four years. He told Insider he works about 48 hours a week with an hour's break for lunch each day, but still feels like he has a good work-life balance: "I don't usually work on weekends and have spare time for my family, to focus on my interests outside of work, and to exercise a couple of times a week."
Bahl worked for 10 years in India before moving to Dubai. He said he works harder in Dubai than he did in India, but believes it was because he held a more junior role back in his home country.
Farah Rahman-Pearson, 34, currently work in HR in Dubai. She's previously worked in Singapore, and has experience working for a Hong Kong company. Her current schedule allows her to drop off her kids at 07:30, spend the day in the office, and still make it home in time for bath time in the evening.
"From my personal experience, I would rank Singapore, Hong Kong, and lastly Dubai in terms of being overworked," she told Insider.
Amrit Sharma, a 29-year-old public relations manager who grew up in Dubai, said there's a culture of work-life balance in Dubai, "although there are times when you kind of have to take it upon yourself to maintain that balance." Sharma said personal time has long been respected in Dubai's working culture, recalling that his father, a banker, previously worked a very fixed nine-to-five schedule and would come home at the same time every day.
Pierrick, a 54-year-old copywriter from France who only wanted to be identified by his first name, said it's all relative — and that with his European background, the Dubai work culture did come as a shock. "If you consider the working hours from a European perspective, you could say that Dubai is overworked," Pierrick said. "I admit that I was shocked by the work culture when I came 10 years ago. But I wouldn't consider myself overworked."
Good weather and no income tax
Several of the sources Insider spoke to cited financial upsides of living in Dubai.
Full-time workers in Dubai receive generous overtime payments. Employees who work beyond their regular working hours are entitled to pay equal to their basic salary plus an added 25% of that pay. The added sum increases to 50% if the employee works overtime between 22:00 and 04:00 per UAE's Labour Law.
On top of that, the Emirates does not impose any personal or capital income tax for UAE citizens or expats.
Pierrick said he makes two to three times more than he did in Europe, but declined to share the details of his earnings.
"Dubai is very result-oriented. We don't think of just doing our hours and then getting paid, like in Europe," he said. "Here, you're paid on your skills; you're paid on your results. You can expect to improve a lot professionally when working in Dubai."
For Bahl, the appeal of living in Dubai is also largely money-based: "I have a comfortable life here. And I don't pay income tax, so I'm saving a lot more."
Sullivan, who hails from the wet and stormy UK, said Dubai's weather is a blessing. "The UK weather makes it less appealing to do much after work, so it can often feel like your weekdays are solely for work."
A significant expat population and a transient nature
Expats account for 85% of Dubai's population, and many of them have paid help at home, Rahman-Pearson said: "This helps with our career and day-to-day living — to have somebody else living with your family to alleviate some of the stress."
Rahman-Pearson, who is a working mom, finds that many services in Dubai make life easier. She gets fresh, pre-measured ingredients with recipes sent to her doorstep, so she doesn't have to think of what to cook daily. It's also common for Dubai residents to take use time-saving measures like having gas delivered to their car, she said.
"There is also a general sense the Dubai lifestyle is very pampered," she added.
But Reem Shaheen, a counselling psychologist for BE Centre Psychology in Dubai, told Insider there's a downside to the city being so expat-heavy — and that not all pressures are felt equally by the entire expat population. According to the World Population Review, most of Dubai's expat population comes from low- to medium-income countries: 51% is from India, 17% from Pakistan, and 9% from Bangladesh. This group of workers, Shaheen said, faces higher pressure to succeed in Dubai as they seek a better quality of life away from their home nation.
"It is very stressful, as you get to stay here depending on how well you do your job," Shaheen told Insider. "That's a huge burden on anyone, especially for breadwinners and people who come from countries that are not doing well economically."
"If you lose your job, you could go back to a country where there are not enough resources and you are struggling financially," Shaheen said. "That adds to the stress, the burnout."
Dubai was ranked second-worst in terms of access to mental healthcare in Kisi's study. Shaheen said access to mental healthcare in Dubai is costly, with limited insurance coverage. And while the Dubai Health Authority has made it mandatory for psychiatry benefits to be covered in the most basic of insurance plans, that is not enough, she said.
As such, Shaheen advises that people watch out for early signs of burnout.
The problem with burnout is that people ignore it, Shaheen said. "They brush the feeling aside, thinking they are tired. Or they think to themselves, 'Oh, it's just a lot of work; let me push through for another month, another year.' And by the time clients reach out for help, burnout is entangled with depression."
"Burnout, if you catch it at the beginning, is fine; At the end, it's quite debilitating," she added.