Dubai is ranked as the most crowded city in the world. These expats disagree.

  • Dubai was ranked as the most crowded city in the world in a recent study by Kisi.
  • Expats working in the city said they have a good work-life balance.
  • A psychologist says people should still beware of burnout in the transient, fast-paced city.

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

“My days aren’t always the same due to the nature of my work, but my hours are usually 9 am to 6 pm, with an early finish at 5 pm on Friday,” Sullivan told Insider. “After work, I go shopping, chatting with friends or, in the winter months, getting the last sun outside.”

In fact, the regular nature of her week is notable mainly because she works in Dubai, which was named the most overburdened city in the world in a study by cloud-based access control firm Kisi.

For the study, released May 25, Kisi assessed a number of factors, including paid time off, cost of living, access to mental health and inclusion. Kisi selected 51 US metropolitan areas and 49 global economic centers, including New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Paris, and analyzed data drawn from international organizations, 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 overburdened city. Despite the long hours they spend, all sources said that, like Sullivan, they have a good work-life balance.

A culture of work-life balance

Under UAE labor law, workers in the private sector can work a maximum of 48 hours a week, spread over six days. Workers also receive 30 days of paid annual leave and 45 days of fully paid parental leave.

Saurabh Bahl is a 36-year-old insurance account risk engineer who has been working in Dubai for four years. He told Insider he works around 48 hours a week with an hour lunch break every day, but still feels he has a good work-life balance: “I don’t usually work on weekends and I have time free for my family, to focus on my interests outside of work, and to exercise a few times a week.”

Bahl worked for 10 years in India before moving to Dubai. He said he works more in Dubai than in India, but believes it was because he held a younger position in his home country.

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

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

Amrit Sharma, a 29-year-old public relations manager 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 responsibility for maintaining that balance.” Sharma said personal time has long been respected in Dubai’s work culture, noting that his father, a banker, previously worked a very fixed schedule from nine to five and came home at the same time every day.

Pierrick, a 54-year-old French copywriter who only wanted to be identified by his first name, said it’s all relative — and that with his European origins, Dubai’s work culture came as a shock. “If you look at working hours from a European perspective, you could say Dubai is overworked,” Pierrick said. “I admit I was shocked by the work culture when I arrived 10 years ago. But I wouldn’t consider myself overworked.”

Expats partying on a luxury yacht on Dubai creek.

Expats partying on a luxury yacht moored in Dubai creek.

KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images


Good weather and no income tax

Several of the sources Insider spoke to cited the financial advantages of living in Dubai.

Full-time workers in Dubai receive generous overtime pay. Employees who work outside normal working hours are entitled to remuneration equal to their base salary plus 25% of this remuneration. The added value increases to 50% if the employee works overtime between 10pm and 4am as per the UAE Labor Law.

In addition, the UAE does not impose any personal income or capital taxes on UAE nationals or expatriates.

Pierrick said he earns two to three times as much as he does in Europe, but declined to share the details of his earnings.

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

For Bahl, the appeal of living in Dubai is also largely based on money: “I have a comfortable life here.


income tax

so I’m saving a lot more.”

Sullivan, who hails from the wet and blustery UK, said Dubai’s weather is a blessing. “UK weather 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 sounds.

Sviatlana Yankouskaya/EyeEm/Getty Images


A significant expatriate population and a transient nature

Expats make up 85% of Dubai’s population, and many of them have paid help at home, Rahman-Pearson said: stress.”

Rahman-Pearson, who is a working mother, finds that many services in Dubai make life easier. She gets fresh, pre-measured ingredients with recipes sent 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 delivering gasoline to their car, she said.

“There is also a general feeling that the Dubai lifestyle is very pampered,” he added.

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

“It’s very stressful as you stay here depending on how well you do your job,” Shaheen told Insider. “This is a huge burden for anyone, especially for the heads of households and people who come from countries that are not doing well economically.”

“If you lose your job, you can go back to a country where you don’t have enough resources and you’re struggling financially,” Shaheen said. “It increases the stress, the burnout.”

Dubai was ranked second worst in terms of access to mental health in Kisi’s study. Shaheen said access to mental health in Dubai is expensive, with limited insurance coverage. And while the Dubai Health Authority has made it mandatory for psychiatric benefits to be covered under the most basic insurance plans, that is not enough, she said.

As such, Shaheen advises people to watch out for the first signs of burnout.

The problem with burnout is that people ignore it, Shaheen said. “They drop the feeling, thinking they’re tired. Or they think to themselves, ‘Oh, it’s just too much work; let me go on for another month, another year.’ And by the time customers seek help, burnout is tangled with


depression

.”

“Burnout, if you notice it early on, it’s good; by the end, it’s pretty debilitating,” he added.

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