The four-day workweek has been rising in popularity, with numerous countries around the world adopting the working model to successful outcomes. In the lead-up to the Ontario 2022 general election, two political parties in Ontario promised to explore the option and companies across the country have already adopted the working model.
While some have implemented a work week that has Friday as a non-working day, others have opted for a flexible schedule, with employees working one day less at different points during the week.
In addition to reducing overhead costs, improving employee well-being, and increasing productivity, amidst a labour shortage and a pro-employee market, a four-day workweek can also give your company a competitive edge when being chosen by top talent.
The concept of a four-day workweek is not new, but with the rise in hybrid work environments, and recent legislation highlighting the need for greater employee wellness and mental health support—including B.C.’s five-day paid sick leave and Ontario’s disconnecting from work policy—the working model has been gaining more momentum than ever lately.
If you’re an employer considering transitioning to the working model, it’s important that you consider the specific needs of your business and if the four-day workweek is right for you. This includes weighing the pros and cons, considerations for its implementation, and seeing how it’s worked out for other Canadian companies.
How does the four-day workweek work?
If your business offers a four-day workweek, it means your employees work their regular hours four days in a week and enjoy a three-day weekend. Ideally, it does not mean that five days of work hours are compressed into four or employee compensation is reduced.
Is the four-day workweek positive for business?
In 2022, more than 30 companies across the US, Ireland, and Australia participated in a six-month pilot program, 4 Day Week Global. In its findings, participants reported that they felt less stressed and burnt out and reported higher rates of life satisfaction. Revenue also increased by more than a percentage point each month, with a total rise of 8% during the trial. When compared to the same period a year prior in 2021, it rose by 38%.
In 2018, a New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, conducted a four-day work week trial for its 240 employees. The trial ran for eight weeks and saw a 20% productivity increase. Not only were the employees able to maintain the work output of a five-day work week, but they reported improvements in areas, such as work-life balance, commitment, stress levels, and goodwill towards the company.
Which Canadian companies have already adopted the four-day workweek model?
The four-day workweek has been gaining momentum with some of the world’s biggest companies. One of the most notable companies to implement the working model is Seattle-headquartered Amazon. But here in Canada, companies also started to use the model, with many praising the model for its positive impacts.
Case in point, Vancouver’s David Suzuki Foundation, which has had a four-day workweek since 1990 when the foundation was started. The company says adopting a shorter workweek has improved the working lives of staff, “giving them time to rest, pursue other interests, explore nature, volunteer, enjoy the company of family and friends, and so much more.”
Other Canadian companies that have jumped on the four-day bandwagon include Toronto-based recruitment company The Leadership, video game developer Eidos, Vancouver-based video game developer Blackbird, and Juno College of Technology.
What are the advantages of working four days a week?
If it is the right working model for your business, a four-day workweek is a win-win deal. A four-day workweek can help you:
Reduce overhead costs
Shutting your office for an extra day per week means less expenditure on utilities, office equipment, kitchen supplies, etc. Your employees save time and money spent commuting. It is also good for the environment as there is less daily waste created in the office and there is a lower carbon footprint as your staff is no longer commuting to work.
Improve employee wellbeing
An extra day off per week means your staff can spend more quality time with family and friends. They can complete household chores, pursue interests or activities, or simply unwind after a hectic week. Employees who participated in shorter workweek trials did report lower levels of stress, and burnout and enjoyed a healthy work-life balance.
Attract and retain talent during a labour shortage
Businesses across sectors are currently facing a shortage of skilled workers. Inflation and the increased cost of living have only made it harder to find and retain skilled employees.
A recent study reported that the labour shortage is pushing employers to recruit candidates with a lot less experience and sometimes even without the required skills. In a pro-employee market, an innovative perk like a four-day workweek would give you an edge over your competition. It would also be an excellent strategy to retain existing employees.
The four-day workweek trials conducted around the world have shown that a shorter workweek does not bring down employee productivity. Productivity levels either remained the same or increased when participating employees were able to enjoy a work-life balance.
Promote gender parity
A shorter work week could potentially make it easier for female employees to balance work and home. It would help create a level playing field with women in the workplace no longer at a disadvantage because they must juggle work with childcare.
How do I implement the four-day workweek?
A four-day workweek needs to be carefully considered before it can be adopted. To properly prepare your company for adopting the four-day workweek, consider the following:
Figure out your business goals first
The first thing to consider when drafting a four-day workweek policy is the reason for the change. Scheduling, benefits, and payroll are three areas that will see the most changes due to the transition to a four-day workweek. The purpose could be to increase your organization’s efficiency. You may also want to boost your productivity, employee engagement, and retention rates. Highlighting the program’s goal and making it measurable will make implementation easier.
Involve your team in the decision
Involving members of your company in the decision-making process on whether to adopt a four-day workweek early on allows your team to feel included in the decision to switch over to a shorter working week—and will increase their motivation to make the transition a success. You should check and see whether your employees are keen on the idea and ask them to discuss any alternatives. Collaborate across departments—namely HR and legal—to develop guidelines that will suit everyone.
Be clear on the changes
Switching over to a four-day workweek is a big transition. Make sure that your policy is easy to understand and that there aren’t any ambiguities in the document. Clarify what processes or expectations will change and what will stay the same.
Starting out by alternating start dates may be an option if each department can function efficiently with team members who begin their work week on separate days.
Communicate what the new model’s benefits are
Switching over to a four-day workweek is aimed to benefit your employees and your company. Highlighting what the intentional advantages are of the adjustment will ensure that everyone knows the reason behind the change. For example, communicate that it will likely boost productivity and employee engagement. It will also be helpful to create an action plan.
Decide on a work schedule
Defining what a worker’s work schedule will look like is crucial in having your transition to a four-day work week run smoothly. Start by clearly outlining working hours, who has a say in which days are taken off, any changes to pay or operating costs, and how you will be calculating vacation time.
Trial out the system first
Testing the new work system can be a helpful step to take before committing full-time.
By trailing the new model—for a one-month period, for example—you’ll be able to smooth out any issues with the new system and make changes before its official implementation. You might even notice that it doesn’t work for you after all before you commit to legal work.
Test out a part-time version instead
Employers interested in adopting the four-day workweek don’t necessarily have to commit to the plan full-time. They can also trial using it during certain weeks or months of the year. This can be a great alternative if your company is usually busier during certain periods. For less busy periods, you can adopt the four-day workweek.
Address the impact on policies
An important part of considering whether to implement the four-day workweek is what impact it may have on policies for paid time off, sick leave, and wages. Check with your legal team and local provincial guidelines on whether you need to adjust any of your in-house policies.
What are the challenges of a four-day workweek?
Implementing a shorter work week is not without its challenges and requires careful planning. It will require restructuring workflows and work schedules, and may not be viable for all businesses, especially retail and food establishments.
Some roles may also be hard to adapt to a four-day work model making company-wide implementation tough. If companies choose to compress a 40-hour work week into four days, it may have the opposite effect on employee engagement, productivity, and well-being.
Should you consider a four-day workweek?
Business owners across the world are asking themselves this question, as trials and studies on a four-day workweek show promising results. There is no direct answer to whether a four-day workweek will work for your business since every company is different. That said, employers should remain flexible and stop on top of HR trends when it comes to offering a competitive work-life balance.
To help make the decision to make the transition, as an employer, you are encouraged to talk to your employees or conduct employee surveys to find out which workplace solutions are most suited for your company’s needs.
What is another alternative to the four-day workweek?
If a shorter work week is not the right fit for your business, you could offer another perk to your staff that has similar benefits – flexible work.
Flexible work means your staff has flexibility when it comes to working hours, work location, or working part-time, etc. Doing so allows your staff to balance their jobs with their personal life and work when they are least distracted and most productive. Flexible work would entail the same benefits as a shorter work week, such as a work-life balance, lower stress levels, better mental health, increased job satisfaction, and so on.
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