The United Arab Emirates will shift to a working week comprising four-and-a half days, with a Saturday-Sunday weekend, the government announced on Tuesday.

The UAE will become the only country in the Gulf region that will not have weekends on Friday and Saturday, AFP reported. It is a norm in the region to have Fridays as complete off days for prayers.

The new work schedule will apply to government bodies from January 1. The working hours from Monday to Thursday will be from 7.30 am to 3.30 pm. On Fridays, shifts will end at 12 pm.

“Friday sermons and prayers will be held after 1.15 pm all year long in the UAE,” the government said. “Employees will have the option of flexible working hours and work-from-home on Fridays.”

Giving employees a longer weekend is part of the efforts to “boost work-life balance and enhance social wellbeing, while increasing performance to advance the UAE’s economic competitiveness”, said state news agency WAM. “The UAE is the first nation in the world to introduce a national working week shorter than the global five-day week.”

The news agency added that the change in work schedule will allow the UAE align with global markets in a better way.

“It will ensure smooth financial, trade and economic transactions with countries that follow a Saturday/Sunday weekend, facilitating stronger international business links and opportunities for thousands of UAE-based and multinational companies,” it added.

Scott Livermore, the chief economist of the Oxford Economics Middle East, said the move will help businesses and attract investment, AFP reported.

“However, a shorter working week does present some challenges in terms of managing output costs, although there is some evidence that a shorter working week can boost productivity of the workforce,” he added.