THUNDER BAY, ONT. — When EcoSuperior began a four-month trial of a four-day work week last year, they didn’t anticipate that it would last for 11 months before becoming a permanent status.
“EcoSuperior does very different work in different seasons,” said Sue Hamel, executive director of the organization in Thunder Bay.
“It took us a little longer to get a better sense of the implications of piloting a four-day work week over the different seasons and all of the demands that come with those different seasons.”
She said they spent more time learning about some of the implications on the human resources level and weighing in all of the factors, with COVID-19 being one of them.
Working with their board of directors, they looked at the details of what a four-day work week would look like, how many hours would be encompassed, and what the options were for staff.
Once they came up with a plan, it had to be something the staff wanted to try out.
“We jumped right to a permanent statistical analysis system which was really important, and from what I had read in the research, there’s no one-size-fits-all for every organization or company,” Hamel said.
“One of the many pieces that I learned from other companies and organizations around the world that had already done it was actually to do a trial so that you can kind of really see whether or not this works for your organization in your context and also to work out any kinks that you might not be expecting.”
Hamel and the board engaged a researcher, McKenzie Barnett from the Lakehead University psychology department, to evaluate their test pilot which began in February.
The evaluation involved focus group interviews and surveys along the way, measuring if the shorter work week is a benefit to the health and well-being of the staff and organization, and allowing staff to be able to speak openly about what they were learning, finding and experiencing.
“With the researcher helping to create reports for me and the management team, we were able to provide that to the board of directors so that they could understand,” she said.
During the trial, they found that the people who benefit the most are caregivers to children or their aging or ailing parents or someone else.
Erin Moir, an education director with EcoSuperior, is grateful for the new hour structure and says it has “definitely made life a lot less stressful.”
“It’s a really nice adjustment. I mean, who doesn’t want to work four days a week?” she said. “It’s nice to have that extra day to deal with personal life and it’s also a great way to manage work better with time management and that’s been really encouraging.”
With two young children, Moir says the four-day work week has made the biggest impact on her family.
“It gives me the opportunity to do other things that I likely wouldn’t have time for or can adjust my schedule to do extra family activities or extra school activities depending on what’s going on the schedule, especially in June when it’s crazy (busy),” she said.
Moir says she would “100 per cent” recommend the hour adjustment for other businesses, but not all businesses are conducive to four-day shifts.
“There are ways to adjust that to chop those hours up into some staff working Monday to Thursday and some staff on Tuesday to Friday or whatever the schedule could be, so it’s definitely not impossible,” she said.
“The morale around our office is wonderful. We’re a great team and you can see that the health of people and just being able to have that extra time to manage life outside of work is a lot easier.”
Hamel added, “When you consider moving to a four-day work week, consider that it’s actually an equity issue. Those caregivers (who worked a 40-hour work week) who may actually have to leave their jobs because of caregiving, might now be able to stay on and be retained in situations like this. Those who are being cared for also benefit, and that’s something that’s a gift that has exponential benefits across our community.”
The research showed when you have more than 32 hours squeezed into four days, that can lead to exhaustion. Hamel said at EcoSuperior, they tried to not make the excess extended day very significant.
“I heeded that (research) advice and decided to bring forward a maximum of 32 hours in those four days,” she said. “It’s not like we’re suddenly fully giving up eight hours. In the past, people were working generally a seven-hour workday plus their lunch and breaks. We ended up just moving to 32 hours, which mathematically, that’s just 92 per cent of what employees were originally asked to do in terms of hours. So it’s not a huge jump. It’s not like we’ve given up 20 per cent of our week. It seems that way, but mathematically it isn’t. Moving from 35 to 32 is not a giant leap.”
Hamel calls it the 32-hour, four-day flex which means people can work seven hours a day, plus their lunch, which might work out to an eight-hour workday, enabling them to bump those extra hours into Friday morning. So there’s that flexibility.
Hamel says “without a doubt,” the four-day work week could appeal to the workforce which is currently in a desperate shortage. She says other countries that are doing this at a much larger scale see it as a selling point for a workplace to attract and retain workers.
“With that being said, I think it’s really important that any workplace, organization or company needs to realize there’s no one-size-fits-all four-day work week.
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