Could a shorter work week
become the norm in Canada?

Improving public health indicators and increasing rates of vaccination mean Ontario is ready to ease more restrictions. It also means more people are able to return to work and head back to the office. But, could there be change in store for the standard 5-day work week?

Covid-19 has altered the working lives of Canadians and the idea of working four days a week is gaining popularity. According to an Angus-Reid poll (June 2020), roughly 53% of Canadians are in support of 30-hour work week schedule, compared to 47% in 2018.

The idea of a shorter workweek is not a new concept. Several governments around the world are considering the idea to varying degrees. For instance, between 2015-2019, public sector employees in Iceland (about 2,500), participated in a pilot program to assess the impacts of reducing the 40-hour work week to 35-36 hours per week, with no changes to pay.

Overall, the study’s findings, jointly published by Alda and Autonomy (a UK think-tank) in June 2021, was accepted as an “overwhelming success”. The results demonstrated “the transformative positive effects of a shorter working week for both employees and businesses alike” the report stated.

Workers reported feeling less stressed and their well-being increased while output did not decrease in the majority of workplaces. On the contrary, productivity increased. Such was the case in Reykjavik’s department of accountancy. During the trial, it reported a 6.5% increase in the number of invoices processed compared to the same period the year prior.

The success of the trail has already led to a transformation in working hours among trade unions and their members. Roughly 86% of Iceland’s working population have either adapted the shorter work week schedule or have gained the right to do so. Not surprisingly, the Nordic nation is considered one of the happiest countries in the world.

A similar experiment was tested out in Japan with encouraging results. After one month of closing their offices every Friday in August 2019, Microsoft reported a 40% increase in productivity in their Japan office.

Other benefits included a reduction of electricity consumption and paper printing.

In Canada, a comparable nine-month project was carried out in Nova Scotia with similar positive results. Born out of the necessity to adopt changes during the Covid-19 pandemic, City councillors in the municipality of the District of Guysborough adapted to a condensed work week schedule. With a two-team system rotating between a Monday-Thursday and Tuesday-Friday schedule and a combination of in office and work from home strategy, staff and council were pleased with the outcome and voted in favour to continue the work policy.

As appealing as a shorter work week sounds, critics argue it does not adapt to all occupations across all sectors. A shorter work week may not be suitable for all businesses as it may lead to a decrease in productivity and pose major issues in terms of staffing and scheduling, specially in cases where employees are required be responsive at least five-days a week.

But consider the advantages. An environment that offers flexibility for a better work-life balance has the potential to attract talent, empower employees and increase overall productivity while working fewer hours, a potential win-win situation.

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