Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The concept of a four-day work week has been gaining attention in Ontario, thanks in part to the decision by at least seven municipalities that are now offering their staff the flexibility of that option.

 

But the merits of such a system, which has become commonplace in many European countries including Denmark, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands, is the subject of much debate among critics and advocates in North America.

 

While there are those who believe implementing a shorter work week is impossible in many sectors resulting in additional costs for overtime or hiring more staff, not to mention placing more stress on employees to get their work done in a shorter time frame, others insist such a system creates a better life balance and overall sense of wellbeing that can inspire increased productivity.

 

“There has been a lot of upheaval in workplaces which has opened the doors to rethinking arrangements,” says Ellen Russell, Associate Professor of Digital Media & Journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University and a labour market and economics expert.

 

She believes the next generation of employees may not understand the need to have arbitrary time limits placed on their work hours. “If there is not a reason then my guess is these future workers would really find it strange to be so arbitrary for no apparent reason,” says Ellen.

 

This is a subject Joe O’Connor, Director and Co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence (WTRCE), is more than familiar.

 

As the former CEO of 4 Day Week Global, which has been leading four-day work week trial programs with businesses worldwide, including 10 in Canada, he is a strong believer in the concept and through the WTRCE has been partnering with organizations to support their transformation to a shorter work week.

 

His organization is a proponent of reduced work hours schedules, not just a compressed model where employees are required to work 10-hour days four days a week.

 

“Arguably, post COVID-19 quality of life is now the new frontier of competition,” says Joe, adding for many workers it means more than compensation. “One of the things I have observed is the shift towards embracing shorter work weeks has happened at all three traditional layers of the organization.”

 

He believes business leaders have become more ‘open’ to it because they see the potential benefits in terms of attracting and retaining talent, and that many managers are more comfortable with this type of system because they are now familiar with measuring outputs rather the length of time people spend at their desk.

 

“For the employees, it’s really the demand effect. The value people have placed on time as a benefit has greatly increased because of what people experienced during the pandemic,” says Joe.

 

But he is quick to point out there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to implementing a shorter work week.

 

“This is not something that should be implemented the same way from business to business, and industry to industry,” he says, adding in larger organizations work models could even vary between departments. “There will still be a need to facilitate different kinds of irregular work patterns based on business needs and employee preferences.”

 

Employee support is key says Joe when it comes to implementing such a drastic change, which means taking a hard look at how an organization operates, noting that introducing a shorter work week could be met with fear and skepticism.

 

“This is something that really works in organizations with very strong work cultures,” he says, adding going through a thorough evaluation process can galvanize a team as efficiencies are found so they can accommodate that addtional time off. “There is a real collectiveness at the heart of this and it relies on a commitment within teams and departments to find ways to change how they do things together to make it a success.”

 

Joe is confident within the next few years shorter work weeks will be the norm in sectors like information and communication technologies, software companies, and financial services. He also notes that two Canadian law firms, YLaw in B.C. and The Ross Firm in Ontario, have both switched to a four-day work week, something many in the legal industry deemed would be impossible due their current billing systems.

Joe says YLaw accomplished this shift by finding efficiencies in its operations and the latter firm did it by implementing a fixed fee billing system.

 

“My prediction is that in five years’ time, this is going to be the norm in some sectors and in 10 years it’s going to be more common than a five-day week,” says Joe, adding the potential is there to implement this concept in many sectors, including manufacturing. “I think there is an opportunity here for proactive leaders and strong organizations. Now is the time to really set yourself apart from the competition.”

 

 

Pros of a four-day work week

  • Productivity may increase
  • Workers can take care of medical and other appointments on their days off
  • Recruitment and retention may be easier by offering flexible work hours
  • Reduced stress and a better life-work balance, allowing employees more time for other activities and hobbies
  • Commuting less by employees could have environmental benefits

 

Cons of a four-day work week

  • For hourly paid jobs, employers should check if they will need to pay overtime if staff work 10 hours a day
  • If may be difficult to find daycare open for a 10-hour day to meet childcare needs
  • Working longer days or trying to complete tasks in a shorter timeframe could have health impacts
  • This may not work for all industries, such as farming, customer service and restaurants
  • Ensuring customer and client coverage can require scheduling employees over different workdays

 

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