In trials, a four-day work week did not reduce overall output

Roslyn KuninWhat would every working person like? Maybe it is winning the lottery and retiring to a tropical island. Unfortunately, as we all know, the odds of that happening are over 100 million to one.

A somewhat more probable but still pretty unlikely desire is to be able to work less but keep your earned income at the same level.

It is no wonder that most of us would like to see our working time – but not our pay – drop. We would feel less pressure at work and thus be much less likely to burn out. We would have less stress and less fatigue. We would be better able to pursue hobbies, sports, fitness and other interests. We would have more time with family and friends. Our work-life balance would swing strongly in our favour.

A survey of Canadian workers showed that 93 per cent of them would be happy to work fewer hours for the same pay. It makes one wonder what the remaining seven per cent were thinking.

Leisure-nature The rise of the four-day work week

Photo by Zach Betten

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Discussions of working less for the same pay have centred around implementing a work week of four eight-hour days, reducing weekly hours down to 32 from what is now the usual 40 hours. Several organizations in Canada and beyond have taken it on as their mission to see that a four-day work week becomes more widely implemented and even the norm.

In Canada, the Work Time Reduction Centre of Excellence’s mission is to help the world work smarter and shorter. It has already implemented trial runs of reduced working hours in Canadian companies. The shorter hours are often continued after the trial with the enthusiastic support of 100 per cent of the workers involved.

On a more global scale, 4 Day Week Global is set up as an international platform for individuals and organizations that see a work week of four days as the desired structure for the future of work. They base their focus on research originally done in 2018 and carried on with additional studies in different countries.

While benefits to employees are obvious, why would employers be willing to keep pay levels constant as working hours are reduced? Test programs have shown that workers are happier, more refreshed, and much less likely to take sick days or days off for personal reasons. People with family and other responsibilities are more likely to find it worth their while to take and keep a job.

Even more important, given the current talent shortages and the tightness in the labour market, those working a shorter week are much less likely to quit. And offering a three-day weekend every week makes it much easier to attract talent when it is scarce.

Of course, not every worker will always have their extra day off on a Friday. The reduced work schedules will have to be adjusted to meet the needs of the specific organization. The Work Time Reduction Centre and 4 Day Week Global both offer assistance and programs to interested organizations to enable them to install reduced working hours flexibly and appropriately for their needs.

Maybe it should not be surprising, but the trials and tests have shown that cutting working hours by 20 per cent did not reduce overall output. Instead, the now more contented workers increased their hourly productivity sufficiently to offset the added time off. 4 Day Week Global calls this the 100-80-100 rule. Pay is maintained at 100 per cent, hours are reduced to 80 per cent and output remains at 100 per cent. All aspects of productivity are positively affected. For example, staff are more pleasant and customer service improves with shorter work weeks.

The four-day work week may soon become a reality for many workers. It already has for some fortunate employees. Organizations in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have seen promising results from shorter working hours. A two-year pilot program is being considered in Boston. In Canada, some municipalities in Ontario and several companies in the private sector are considering taking advantage of this option, especially in talent shortages.

A century or so ago, people worked six-day weeks and often 12-hour days. Any reduction in working hours was feared to have disastrous results. It took great effort on the part of labour unions and reformers to get the work week down to its current level. Far from having bad results, outcomes for both companies and individuals were very much improved. Factors like improving technology really helped to give us more time off and a better life. Such trends are continuing.

We may all be enjoying regular three-day weekends very soon.

Dr. Roslyn Kunin is a public speaker, consulting economist and senior fellow of the Canada West Foundation.

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