The four-day workweek has long been regarded as nothing more than a pipe dream for Canadians. However, since the emergence of the coronavirus, that wistful outlook has taken an optimistic turn.
Now, a four-day workweek doesn't seem so unattainable anymore. In fact, in a post-pandemic world, it may be exactly what Canada needs to bring its dwindling economy back to life and ease the workforce into the new reality.
In the heat of the health crisis, employers across the country were left with no choice but to experiment with variable work arrangements. The unexpected outcome of those "forced" trial periods was that such alternatives actually showed significant promise for applications beyond just a pandemic scenario.
John Trougakos, an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, believes that a four-day workweek could be beneficial for both Canadian workers and employers. That says a lot, coming from an expert who has conducted research on solutions for workplace efficiency for over two decades.
"This is an opportunity to redesign the way we do things to make them better in the long run," he said. "More forward-thinking companies should start thinking about it now [while] people are open to the fact that change is happening."
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's prime minister, has taken the idea into consideration for her own country. As the kiwi nation gears up to reopen after having eradicated the coronavirus completely (health officials announced that the last known infected person had recovered this past Monday), she is reviewing all options for maximum economic revival, including a four-day workweek.
"I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day week. Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees, but as I’ve said, [there are] lots of things we’ve learned about COVID and just that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of it,” Ardern said in a Facebook live video.
"This is an extraordinary time and we should be willing to consider extraordinary ideas," she added.
According to the National Post, the standard 9-to-5 work arrangement has been around since the Industrial Revolution, tracing back to the Ford assembly line in the early 1900s. It hasn't been changed since, which seems like a huge missed opportunity considering the fact that a significant proportion of work nowadays is digital and desk-bound.
Trougakos has also found in his research that North American companies lose as much as $3 to $6 billion a year due to employee stress and burnout. He says that a four-day workweek isn't a "one-size-fits-all" solution, but it could definitely be a good fit in some cases.
"It's perfect for white-collar," said Chris Higgins, a professor at Western University's Ivey Business School. "Everybody will love it," he added, saying that 30 to 40 percent of the population could easily adopt the compressed workweek.
Several companies have trialed compressed workweeks in past years, including the Perpetual Guardian, an estate planning business in New Zealand, and Microsoft Japan. In both cases, the trials showed increased employee satisfaction, a rise in workplace productivity, and a drop in electricity and paper costs.
In Canada, we have yet to hear Justin Trudeau unveil plans for a four-day workweek. On Wednesday, the Canadian prime minister responded to a CityNews reporter's question on the issue, saying the government's primary focus is on present matters; that is, getting through the ongoing crisis as smoothly as possible.
"Right now we’re very much focused on getting through this particular crisis, and we’ll have plenty of time to talk about particularly creative ideas on moving forward, but I’m not going to speculate on what any of them might be."
Nevertheless, the demand for a four-day workweek is still high among Canadians. An Angus Reid poll from June 2018 showed that 70 percent of Canadians would prefer working 10-hour workdays to 8-hour workdays if that meant they could enjoy a three-day weekend.
Photo by Eric Parker
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