The case for the four-day work week

comic showing person relaxing Friday, Saturday, Sunday

I’ve always believed that North Americans are workaholics. As a society, we allow work to rule our lives, from our waking hours to our sleeping thoughts (see my recent blog on sleep). In my heart, I’ve always felt more European when it comes to work.

In the past five years, I’ve been encouraged to see a growing trend of countries and businesses shifting to a four-day work week.

What’s interesting is in the UK and Europe, companies adopting a four-day work week are generally working less hours than before: between 30 to 32 hours a week.

In North America, not surprisingly, companies experimenting with a four-day work week in some cases are simply proposing to eke the same number of working hours out of employees, but in four days instead of five.

The four-day work week movement says it is campaigning “for a four-day, 32-hour work week with no loss of pay which would benefit workers, employers, the economy, our society, and our environment”.

The UK recently published the results of one of the largest pilot studies on a four-day work week. About 2,900 employees across the UK took part in the pilot. Calling it a “major breakthrough”, 56 of the 61 companies extended the pilot and 18 companies made the arrangement permanent.

Of employees surveyed before and after the pilot, 39% said they were less stressed, 40% were sleeping better and 54% said it was easier to balance work and home responsibilities.

The number of sick days taken during the trial fell by about two-thirds and 57% fewer staff left the firms taking part compared with the same period a year earlier.

“The vast majority of companies reported that they were satisfied with productivity and business performance over the trial period.”

In Ontario, a growing number of rural municipalities are starting to transition to a four-day week. There are now seven municipalities offering employees the option of working a four-day week, the latest being Algonquin Highlands.

The executive director of the Ontario Municipal Administrators Association says it’s easier for rural municipalities to adopt a four-day work week because they are smaller, more nimble, and have more difficulty attracting and retaining talent, so it’s to their benefit to offer more flexibility in the workplace.

In Algonquin Highlands, one group of employees works Monday to Thursday, with another group working Tuesday to Friday. All employees worked an extra hour a day. It’s been a success. As Mayor Liz Danielsen says, “There’s nothing better than having happy staff.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to start the conversation in your workplace. Ask your leaders about a four-day work week.