Ayesha Khan says she isn’t sure she could return to traditional work after shifting to a four-day work week.
Her company adopted the new scheme in March. And since then, every Friday, the Milton, Ont., resident has the time for something as simple as getting her nails done — something she says, as a mother of two, used to take months to plan.
“How would I go back to that five-day life? It would be very difficult,” said Khan, who works in client services for Sensei Labs, a Toronto-based software company.
“Being able to focus on both my physical and mental health, and just having the time to do that… it’s been invaluable.”
Khan is one of hundreds of employees in North America who now work four days a week after participating in a pilot project organized by the non-profit advocacy group 4 Day Week Global and researchers at Boston College.
According to their findings released last week, of the 41 companies that participated and were surveyed, 35 said they are keeping, planning to, or leaning toward keeping the new working scheme.
Joe O’Connor, the former CEO of 4 Day Week Global who helped lead the study, says it’s the largest trial of its kind in North America to date and the first that involves a “relatively strong participation” from hundreds of Canadians from a total of nine companies.
“We’re seeing that shorter working weeks lead to happier, healthier employees,” said O’Connor, who’s also the director and co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Centre of Excellence in Toronto.
“They lead to organizations that are better positioned to attract and retain talent, and actually, very surprisingly for people, they’re also leading to organizations which are more productive.”
The study had companies, most having between 11 to 25 employees, voluntarily try a four-day work week for six months between February 2022 and April 2023. Researchers let companies choose the best way to reduce hours as long as they maintained pay at 100 per cent.
For the 15 employees at Montreal-based firm L’Abri, it means working 35 hours between Monday and Thursday. Architectural designer Pia Hocheneder says the change has made her and her colleagues more focused during work hours, and actually encouraged work gatherings after hours to make up for any lost social contact throughout the day.
“It’s a quality of life that you’re gaining,” said Hocheneder.
What about bigger companies?
Maureen Juniper, the co-founder and partner of public relations firm Praxis, says after a series of workshops and webinars with 4 Day Work Week Global ahead of the transition, the company took a split approach: half of its 27 employees get Monday off, while the other half gets Friday off to make sure there’s always somebody to serve clients throughout the week.
The change paid off, she said, with no impact on revenue. In fact, she said internal findings show the company saw a 25 per cent reduction in personal and sick days taken and a 15 per cent decrease on time spent on internal and administrative tasks.
“It’s life changing, and our business has never run more efficiently,” said Juniper.
But Winny Shen, an associate professor of organization studies at York University in Toronto, says while the study’s positive results are consistent with previous literature, they’re limited in that they mostly come from companies with relatively few employees.
“That can be, perhaps, more difficult to scale up in a larger company with lots more people, lots more complexity,” said Shen.
More study is needed among randomized companies and those with more blue-collar workers, she said.
And for those companies who do try a four-day week, she says there’s always a risk employees could push back if it’s not made permanent, pointing to a similar movement in workplaces trying to mandate a post-pandemic return to the office.
“I think there’s a lot of potential here, but I think before we kind of say that this is beneficial across all circumstances, I think we have to do more work and investigate that,” said Shen.
Tom Collver, a co-founder of pilot participant and remote ecommerce company AddPBJ, says while the shift to a reduced work week comes with a different set of “friction points” for each company, it’s worth the time exploring a way it can work for them given the potential benefits.
“You don’t have to go whole hog right away, but I think it’s something really, really valuable to explore because you never know.”