The four-day work week is here
The four-day work week has taken the world by storm in the last year, with good reason. While the idea had been brewing for a while, the pandemic broke it open. As people and organizations learned lessons about what really matters in the workplace, the four-day work week has risen as a solution for workplace burnout while increasing employee engagement.
Studies have shown that reducing hours while maintaining salaries improves workers’ well-being and productivity. Iceland launched a series of pilots from 2015 to 2019 that were overwhelmingly successful. Workers reported reduced stress and burnout, and a better work life balance. Iceland’s trade unions negotiated for shorter working hours, and now 90 per cent of the Icelandic workforce have reduced work hours or other accommodations.
Other countries have quickly followed suit. Belgium joined the four-day work week movement and has also provided the “right to disconnect” so that workers no longer need to respond to calls or emails outside of working hours. Scotland, Japan, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates have also launched pilots or made reductions to workdays and hours
The Canuck perspective
The four-day work week is also catching on in Canada. Toronto recruitment company, The Leadership Agency, went to four-day full work week for employees in October 2020 with employees still receiving the same pay and vacation days per year. In Nova Scotia, the municipality of Guysborough made their four-day week permanent in April 2021 after a successful pilot. Montreal video game company Eidos has switched to a 32-hour work week, and Alida Inc., a Toronto software company did the same in February 2022. Alida operates in 11 countries, and the move applies to all its 500 employees across the globe.
In March, Saskatoon and Toronto-based tech company Coconut Software would make its move to the four-day week permanent. “We believe that if we take care of our people, they will, in turn, take great care of our customers and business,” said Katherine Regnier, Coconut Software’s CEO in the announcement. “That’s why it’s so critical we ensure our employees have time to rest, recharge, and be ready to tackle the week’s challenges. Coconut is very results-driven. Based on the data, performance has remained strong, and, in some cases, the team’s productivity has increased.”
The four-day work week is also becoming a political issue, with Ontario’s provincial Liberal party announcing they will explore the four-day work week if elected in the province’s upcoming provincial election.
The move is also popular with employees. A recent poll by Maru Public Opinion found that 79 per cent of full-time Canadian workers would prefer a four-day work week for the same pay. The survey found that those workers would rather take a shorter week, working ten hours a day instead of the current five-day, eight-hour work week. The idea was especially popular in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with 83 per cent of workers wanting that option.
Manitoba makes a move
Winnipeg’s Brandish Agency, a marketing and advertising firm, first made a temporary move to the four-day work week to help with employee burnout due to the pandemic.
“We work in a fast-paced environment, with or without the pandemic,” says Lee Waltham, managing partner at Brandish. “Add on the stress of COVID-19, and it became apparent we needed to do something to manage the growing burnout, stress and anxiety our team was dealing with.” The company explored ideas being used by other firms in similar fields, like HubSpot’s “reset week” where the organization took a week off at the same time. “We wanted to take an idea like that further,” says Waltham.
Brandish decided to give all staff Fridays off during the summer of 2021 with no reduction in pay and assess after three months. “It was a huge success,” he says. “The decision to make the four-day work week permanent was incredibly easy.”
Today, the company’s staff works four days a week with no salary reduction. Fridays are the day off and staff take turns to ensure that coverage is available for clients. Beyond the additional time off, the benefits to the company are remarkable. “We haven’t seen a reduction in productivity at all,” says Waltham. “In fact, we have seen that we’re all working more efficiently. Meetings have been reduced overall, and the ones we do have become shorter and more effective. People are more organized and more decisive.”
Waltham has some advice for those considering the transition to the four-day work week. “If you’re already thinking about it, chances are you should just do it. Start with a pilot to see how it can work in your company. We were lucky that the business we’re in was easy to transition. While other companies may be larger and more complex, it’s definitely worth the work to make it happen. The benefits you will see far outweigh anything else. You’ll get a more energized, engaged and productive team and you’ll see it in productivity and performance.”