Dubai is ranked as the most overworked city in the world.  These expats do not agree.

Dubai is ranked as the most overworked city in the world. These expats do not agree.

Dubai is ranked as the most overworked city in the world.  These expats do not agree.

  • Dubai was ranked as the most overworked city in the world in a recent survey conducted by Kisi.
  • Expats working in the city said they have a good work-life balance.
  • A psychologist says that in the fast-paced, ephemeral city, people still have to watch out for burnout.

Colette Sullivan, a 30-year-old hotelier from the UK, works what in many ways is a very standard work week.

“My days are not always the same due to the nature of my job, but my work hours are generally 9am to 6pm with an early finish of 5pm on a Friday,” Sullivan told Insider. “After work I go shopping, catch up with friends or, in the winter months, catch the last rays of sunshine in the outdoors.”

In fact, the regular nature of her week is remarkable, especially as she works in Dubai, which was voted the world’s most overworked city in a survey conducted by cloud-based access control company Kisi.

For the survey, released on May 25, Kisi evaluated a number of factors, including paid time off, cost of living, access to mental health care and inclusivity. Kisi has shortlisted 51 metropolitan areas of the US and 49 global economic hubs including New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Paris and analyzed data from international organizations, NGO reports, open access datasets, public surveys and crowdsourcing platforms.

Insider spoke to five people living in Dubai to understand what it’s like to work in the most overworked city in the world. Despite the long hours they put in, all sources said they, like Sullivan, have a good work-life balance.

A culture of work-life balance

Under UAE labor law, private sector workers can clock in for a maximum of 48 hours per week, spread over six days. Employees also get 30 days of paid leave and 45 days of fully paid parental leave.

Saurabh Bahl is a 36-year-old risk engineer for insurance accounts who has been working in Dubai for four years. He told Insider that he works about 48 hours a week with an hour 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 free time.” for my family, to focus on my interests outside of work, and to exercise a few times a week.”

Bahl worked in India for 10 years before moving to Dubai. He said he works harder in Dubai than in India, but he believes it was because he had a lower role in his home country.

Farah Rahman-Pearson, 34, currently works at HR in Dubai. She has previously worked in Singapore and has experience working for a company in Hong Kong. Her current schedule allows her to drop off her kids at 7:30 a.m., spend the day at the office, and still be home in time for bath time in the evening.

“From my personal experience, I would rank Singapore, Hong Kong and finally Dubai in terms of being overworked,” she told Insider.

Amrit Sharma, a 29-year-old public relations executive who grew up in Dubai, said there is a culture of work-life balance in Dubai, “although there are times when you have to take it upon yourself to maintain that balance.” Sharma said personal time has long been respected in Dubai’s work culture, remembering that his father, a banker, used to work a very fixed schedule from nine to five, coming 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 the Dubai work culture with his European background came as a shock. “If you look at working hours from a European perspective, you could say that Dubai is overworked,” said Pierrick. “I admit I was shocked by the work culture when I came ten years ago. But I wouldn’t consider myself overworked.”

Expats party on a luxury yacht on Dubai Creek.

Expats party on a luxury yacht docked at Dubai Creek.

KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images


Good weather and no income tax

Several sources spoke to Insider mentioned financial benefits of living in Dubai.

Full-time workers in Dubai receive generous overtime. Employees who work outside their normal working hours are entitled to a wage equal to their base salary plus 25% of that wage. The added amount will be increased to 50% if the employee works overtime between 10pm and 4am, according to the UAE Labor Code.

In addition, the Emirates does not levy any personal or wealth income tax on UAE residents or expatriates.

Pierrick said he earns two to three times more than in Europe, but declined to share details of his earnings.

“Dubai is very results-oriented. We don’t think about just doing our hours and getting paid, like in Europe,” he said. “Here you get paid for your skills; you get paid for your results. When you work in Dubai, you can expect to improve a lot professionally.”

For Bahl, the appeal of life in Dubai is also largely money-based: “I have a comfortable life here. And I don’t pay


income tax

so I save a lot more.”

Sullivan, from the wet and stormy UK, said the weather in Dubai is a blessing. “The weather in the UK makes it less appealing to do a lot after work, so it can often feel like your weekdays are just for work.”

Two women discuss a common project during their lunch break

Working in Dubai is not as stressful as it seems.

Sviatlana Yankouskaya/EyeEm/Getty Images


A significant expat population and a transient character

Expats make up 85% of Dubai’s population, and many of them have paid for help at home, Rahman-Pearson said: “This helps with our careers and our daily lives – to have someone else with your family to be a part of from the stress.”

Rahman-Pearson, a working mother, finds that many services in Dubai make life easier. She gets fresh, measured ingredients with recipes shipped right to her door, so she doesn’t have to think about what to cook on a daily basis. It is also common for Dubai residents to take time-saving measures such as having petrol delivered to their cars, she said.

“There is also a general feeling that the lifestyle in Dubai is very spoiled,” she added.

But Reem Shaheen, a counseling psychologist for BE Center Psychology in Dubai, told Insider there is a downside to the city being so tough on expats — and not all of the pressure is equally felt by the entire expat population. According to the World Population Review, the majority of Dubai’s expat population comes from low to middle income countries: 51% are from India, 17% from Pakistan and 9% from Bangladesh. This group of workers, Shaheen said, are under increased pressure to succeed in Dubai as they seek a better quality of life outside their home countries.

“It’s very stressful because you can stay here depending on how well you do your job,” Shaheen told Insider. “That’s a huge burden on everyone, especially breadwinners and people coming 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 access to mental health care in Kisi’s survey. Shaheen said access to mental health services in Dubai is expensive, with limited insurance coverage. And while the Dubai Health Authority has mandated that psychiatry benefits be covered in the most basic insurance plans, that’s 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 push the feeling aside, thinking they’re tired. Or they think to themselves, ‘Oh, it’s just a lot of work; let me go on for another month, another year.’ And by the time clients ask for help, burnout is intertwined with


depression

“A burnout, if you catch it in the beginning is fine; by the end it’s pretty debilitating,” she added.