Four-day workweek win-win for workers and bosses

Jessica Smellie is a Unifor Local 1285 activist

WORK 32 HOURS, GET PAID FOR 40. It’s every workers dream 4-day workweek. Employers are actually starting to like it too.

There is mounting evidence that a 4-day workweek without loss of pay, is a win-win for workers and employers.

Many unions like this idea. Unifor, for example, includes a 4-day workweek, with no loss in pay, as a key part of its Build Back Better program. However, the union makes it clear the 4-day workweek they are talking about is not a "compressed workweek" —a version of a 4-day workweek where 40 hours of work are jammed into four days of 10 hours each.

What Unifor favours, and what more and more employers are trying out, is a 4-day workweek where workers get paid for five 8-hour days—but only work four 8-hour days.

Fewer hours, same pay

In 2019 Microsoft Japan tried a one-month experiment: employees were asked to work a four-day week instead of their usual five, without a reduction in pay. In its trial Microsoft gave 2,300 employees a paid Friday off each week. The result was a 40 per cent rise in productivity and happier employees. It also led to workers taking less time off and a reduction in workspace costs.

“There’s a theory called the happy, productive worker hypothesis,” says Erica Carleton, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Saskatchewan.

“The happier people are, the more productive they are. Increased happiness, increased well-being, just having people less stressed, they’ll be better at doing their jobs.”

Last year, researchers at the University of Reading in the U.K confirmed the benefits of a four-day work week, without loss of pay.

The researchers report that: "the benefits of a four-day working week, without loss of pay, can outweigh the cons for both businesses and staff. We surveyed 250  businesses that have already adopted the four-day working week and found that they were making savings of almost £92 billion (around 2% of total turnover) each year."

 And more than three quarters of staff working in that environment reported they were happier, less stressed and took fewer days off.

Fallacy of need for long workweeks

“The main fallacy on longer work week is to assume a linear relationship between the amount of time worked and the productivity of an employee,” says Thomas Roulet, a researcher on the University of Reading project.

“An employee can do more in four days than in five, if she/he is more focused, in better shape mentally and physically.”

He said it’s very likely that the COVID-19 crisis will accelerate the move to a shorter or more flexible work week, enabled by more people working remotely.

Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert says the worst kept secret in every office is that “when people are in the office for 40 hours, they almost never actually work for 40 hours.”

She said that employers should be fixating less on the hours and more on what their employees are getting done.

Challenges what ‘everybody knows’

John Trougakos, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto notes: “The idea that working less will lead to greater efficiency and productivity is counterintuitive for people and thus they are quick to reject the idea.

“Yet, data shows that the most productive people are the ones who actually work less and rest more. But when they are working they are doing it with more energy, efficiency and they make less mistakes because they are more mentally alert and energized.”

As the pandemic continues to shake up how we work and where we work the idea of a 4-day workweek becomes less and less out of the question. The Labour Party in England included the 4-day workweek in its official election platform in 2019.

40% could get 4-day week

“The potential for a shorter workweek may not apply to all industries, but data shows that at least 40 per cent of jobs would be able to adopt this and helping 40 per cent of workers is better than none,” says Trougakos.

Trougakos also found that only 17 per cent of Canadians want to go back to work the way they did before lockdown began.

According to a recent Angus Reid poll, 47 per cent of Canadians say they would prefer a 30-hour work week over a 40-hour one. If that is not an option, 68 per cent say they would prefer to work four 10-hour shifts in a week rather than five eight-hour segments.

Unifor pushes for better work/life balance

Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, has made the 4-day workweek a key element in its #BuildBackBetter campaign. The Covid pandemic only makes  the need for a better work/life balance more urgent, says the union.

The union also offers a warning: “It’s important to be clear about what kind of four-day workweek we’re pushing for, and what kind of changes will lead to better work life balance.

“We must reduce hours overall, not simply compress the same number of hours into a more stressful workday. And this must be done while ensuring that workers do not get hit with a pay cut.”

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