Four-Day Workweeks: Testing Our Productivity

Photo/Image Courtesy of Brenderous, Creative Commons

Many workplaces had to completely adapt the way they operate in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, trying out completely new methods such as working remotely and hybrid offices. Now that things are slowly shifting back to normal, many employers are considering continuing to experiment with how they do business by testing what once seemed like a utopian aspiration: the four-day workweek. 

Eidos-Montr​​eal 一 a video game developer right in McGill’s backyard 一 recently made waves by announcing a transition to a four-day workweek. Around 500 employees in the region will participate in this experiment, now working thirty-two hours a week from Monday to Thursday and taking Friday off. Despite their company reducing hours spent in the office, employees will retain their salary, working conditions,  and benefits. 

Despite their company reducing hours spent in the office, [Eidos] employees will retain their salary, working conditions, and benefits.

David Anfossi, the studio manager of Eidos-Montreal, explains how both his company and employees will benefit from this situation, “The idea is not to condense the working hours into 4 days, but rather to review our ways of doing things and our quality time invested, with the aim of working better! Above all, we want to increase the productivity and well-being of our employees. Concretely, we want to reduce the time at work, but increase the quality of this time invested.”

While Eidos-Montreal may be one of the first companies to do this in North America, European countries have been flirting with the idea of piloting a four-day workweek since as far back as 2015. Iceland, for instance, tested this system on the federal level between 2015 and 2019 by enrolling government employees in the program, including people from a variety of backgrounds such as medical professionals, schoolteachers, and office workers. 

“Concretely, we want to reduce the time at work, but increase the quality of this time invested.” – David Anfossi, Eidos-Montreal

Data collected throughout the experiment shows that productivity increased considerably when compared to pre-experiment levels and that employees reported feeling that they had a better work-life balance as well as significantly reduced stress levels. With Fridays off, participants shared that they now had the opportunity to devote more time to personal matters, such as chores, hobbies, and their families. Icelandic employers also benefited from the program beyond increased productivity, reporting that employees needed less time for sick days and mental health leaves.

The four-day work week is also gradually gaining support within Canada’s prominent political parties. Leading up to October’s general election, the youth wing of the Quebec Liberal Party advocated for a province-wide program that would encourage employers to make the switch to a four-day work week. Instead of having the employer bear all of the burden of the program, the government would financially subsidize the program by covering four of the eight hours not worked. 

Despite many companies enjoying high levels of success from the program, the four-day work week still has many skeptics. A report commissioned by the Labour Party in the UK argued that a four-day work week was not “realistic or even desirable.” The report and experts at the Adam Smith Institute projected that this would likely result in a drop in wages. Most importantly, they warned that the policy would in effect become null because of “exceptions and loopholes,” as did similar legislation in France during the late 1990s.

Critics also question the feasibility of such a program in sectors such as the service industry. In this case, employees are paid for the hours they spend completing a given task like checking people out or making coffee at a cafe. If these people were to work less, the store would likely need to reduce its hours or take on additional employees, both of which could prove costly.

Critics also question the feasibility of such a program in sectors such as the service industry.

Despite some people’s doubts about the initiative, experts on the matter assert that the Icelandic experiment and similar initiatives prove that a four-day workweek is on the horizon, especially for those in the public sector. “This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success… The public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks.”

In an era where executives presiding over employees who work ninety-five hour weeks still urge them to “go an extra mile,” many people are beginning to demand a better work-life balance from their employers. This could come in many forms beyond the four-day workweek, such as the six-hour workday or simply more flexibility in when and where people can work. Regardless of how this change comes, it seems as though the concept of “business as usual” is about to change for many Canadians.

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