The Case for the 4 Day Work Week


Productivity is up. Absences are down. Staff are happier and healthier. Thank the four day work week.

We’ve seen media attention recently about testing the four day work week. Generally, people report positive results. At the Skills Centre, we moved to a four day work week almost two years ago, and we wouldn’t go back.

The four day work week is part of a package of measures that we established in 2019. It standardized benefits across the organization and got rid of institutionalized inequalities.

Here’s the summary:
• 34 hour work week for all employees. (Previously, staff worked a 40 hour week.)
• Includes a paid 30 minute lunch break, but no morning or afternoon breaks
• There is no overtime accrual except in circumstances with prior approval
• Some staff work Monday to Thursday, some Tuesday to Friday

The key to the four day work week is flexibility
The office is open from 8:30 – 5:00 on Monday, 8:00 – 5:00 Tuesday to Thursday, and 8:00 – 4:30 on Friday. We offer flexibility for staff to ensure that they have time to cover child care, elder care or care for dependents with disabilities.

Staff must be in the office or working from home for core office hours (which we set as 9:00 – 3:30) to maximize the time that they have for collaborative work with their colleagues. This means that we have some staff who are in the office between 8:30 and 4:00 on their work days, and they work from home either early in the day or later in the evening.

Several staff work from home one day or part of a day each week. If weather or road conditions are a concern, as they can easily be in a Canadian winter, staff are set up to work from home and encouraged to stay safe and not drive to the office.

There are accountability mechanisms built into each employee’s roles that are outcomes-based, which is how we track their productivity. We also have minimum staffing requirements for the office. One person is in charge of our calendar and manages staff coverage.

Salaries & expectations stay the same
We did not reduce staff salaries – which was the equivalent of a 17% increase in their pay rates. We did not reduce staff work load either, and we increased accountabilities.

Tactics to make the four day week work include:
• Keeping meetings to a minimum & keeping meetings short
• Helping staff manage their workload to get everything done in the reduced time
• Staff are expected to plan personal appointments on their day off, although if the doctor or dentist, for example, is not open on their day off they can use sick time to cover the appointment

In weeks with a statutory holiday, staff can work either a three or four day work week. If they opt to work four days, they can ‘bank’ the holiday to contribute towards a two week winter closure. The closure is timed to coincide with Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, so staff only need to accrue five or six of the annual statutory holidays to cover the time for the winter closure; otherwise they use vacation days.

We do not allow staff to carry forward banked statutory holidays from one year to the next. Just as we can’t afford the liability of unused vacation, we cannot afford the liability of accrued unused lieu time either.

Tip: If a closure at that time is not feasible for your organization, you could explore a rotation with one group off one year, another the next.

Time off
We also offer staff two flex days in the year and a day off for their birthday. Staff rarely use their flex days now because of the four day work week.

We also standardized the vacation package.
• 3 weeks for staff in first 3 years of employment
• 4 weeks in years 4 and 5
• 5 weeks at the completion of 5 years of service
• Management start at 4 weeks and the executive director at 5 weeks

All vacation must be taken during the year and only one week of vacation is permitted as carry-over for the next fiscal year. In extraordinary circumstances (for example maternity or paternity leave), we will allow an additional week to be carried over, but because it is an organizational liability, it needs to be approved.

After all this, what are the results?
• 20% increase in productivity
• Reduction in staff sick time and a general increase in well-being
• Staff are very proud of their workplace – and it shows
• No Covid outbreaks in our workplace

Staff Satisfaction Survey
• 2021 – 89% overall staff satisfaction (after multiple organizational shifts and changes, Covid shutdowns and reopens)
• Continued increase in positive responses (Strongly Agree + Agree) year over year
• 2021: 85% of statements above 80%
• 2018: 81% of statements above 80%
• 2017: 65% of statements above 80%

Just do it
Is now the time to test the four day work week? Absolutely. The pandemic has highlighted the need for flexibility and the value of helping your employees find a work-life balance. We have heard people say immediately that it can’t work for their company. We have also heard others say that it’s an idea worth exploring.

If you’re challenged to find and retain employees and concerned about productivity and down-time, the solutions might be easy to find: things like a living wage, benefits, and, yes, a four day work week.

We’re happy to share more about the benefits we’ve seen with the four day work week. Contact us if you want to discuss how you can make it work.

Want to learn more about the 4 day work week? We blogged about it here as well.