4-day work week with fewer hours, same pay could become a reality in some

It’s only been days since a small Nova Scotia municipality launched a four-day condensed work week pilot project, but according to the chief administrative officer, so far, so good.

The nine-month project, developed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows the municipality’s core employees to work the same number of hours over a period of four days, known to many as a compressed work week.

“Our staff seem to be extra excited about the new work system,” said Barry Carroll, Chief Administrative Officer for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough. “We had some minor adjustments to make, obviously, but otherwise it’s been pretty seamless.”

Familiar concept gains new attention

While the compressed work week is not a new concep​​​​​​t, it has been given some renewed attention since COVID-19 changed the way people work. For many, that includes more flexible hours and working from home.

“What [the pandemic] has shown organizations is that people can work in different work situations,” said Erica Carleton, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Saskatchewan. 

“They’ll get their work done. You don’t need your boss sitting on top of you to finish your work.”

The idea of a four-day work week recently gained a bit more steam after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern mused about it in a Facebook live chat, saying that it certainly would help domestic tourism, as more flexible working arrangements could allow New Zealanders to travel more within their own country.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently mused that a four-day work week would boost domestic tourism. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

However, some experts and researchers suggest employers should consider another type of four-day work week, one that allows employees to work fewer hours and get paid their same weekly salary. 

That structure, they said, would not only improve a work-life balance, but boost productivity among employees. 

“There’s a theory called the happy, productive worker hypothesis,” said Carleton. “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.”

But paying workers the same amount for fewer hours could be a difficult and counterintuitive concept for employers to embrace. Carleton acknowledged that the benefits an employer would see from such a work structure, including a boost in employees’ health and well-being, wouldn’t be immediate.

Still, some companies have implemented this type of work structure and say they have recorded some positive results. Last year, Microsoft Japan went to a four-day work week, closing its offices every Friday in August, while paying their employees the same as if they had worked the full five days.

The company said that as a result, labour productivity rose by nearly 40 per cent compared to August 2018. 


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