As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect people’s employment experience, four-day workweek trials around the world are testing a new way of working.

Tina Dacin, professor and Stephen J.R. Smith chair of strategy and organizational behaviour at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University

The seemingly endless ebbs and flows of the pandemic have required people to consistently adapt to different working conditions, homeschooling, social isolation, new technology and more. They’re taking a hard look at their lives — including their jobs — and re-evaluating what’s important to them.

We may think Canada has averted the ‘Great Resignation,’ since the country’s employment and unemployment rates are near pre-pandemic levels. But a report from the Conference Board of Canada paints a different picture. It found the voluntary turnover rate in Canada rose to 9.1 per cent in 2020/21, higher than any 12-month period since 2014/15. The job vacancy rate is high as well, up 61 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to Statistics Canada. These figures foreshadow the talent pressures employers will face in the future.

Read: Ontario municipality introducing four-day workweek

Now more than ever, an organization’s recruitment, retention and engagement strategies will have outsized influence on future performance. While not a cure-all, the four-day workweek is a model employers should consider to remain competitive.

The evidence so far is promising. According to research out of the University of Reading’s Henley Business School, 63 per cent of organizations already implementing the four-day model found it easier to attract and retain talent and 71 per cent said it helped attract and retain employees with care responsibilities.

The four-day workweek has also been shown to improve employee well-being. Research based on trials in Iceland showed improvements to perceived stress, burnout, health and work-life balance. And it didn’t come at the cost of productivity, which remained the same or even increased.

Just as many organizations are experimenting with hybrid-work arrangements, other models — including the four-day workweek — should also be explored. Now is the time to pivot, to experiment and determine what new models of work will be effective moving forward.

Andrea Bartlett, human resources director at Humi

In two words, it’s complicated.

Since the onset of the pandemic, change is the only constant Canadian employers and employees have known. The most notable and common change among knowledge workers is where and how people work. This has surfaced many questions on the future of work including: Should Canada adopt a four-day workweek?

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The answer? As I shared above, it’s complicated.

Over the last 12 months, there have been strong case studies of countries rolling out beta tests for the implementation of a four-day workweek. While this is a logical starting point, the downside of a beta test is that it doesn’t allow time for long-term learnings. The test results may be showing that employees are more engaged Monday through Thursday and employee satisfaction and productivity increased, but they don’t identify the long-term impact. Especially in a global workforce, there are many things to consider, such as how a four-day workweek would impact employees in different time zones and alignment with region-specific legislations.

It would be easier to adopt this new framework if a four-day workweek was implemented federally, rather than provincially. In this scenario, guidelines, benefits and perks are outlined and rolled out simultaneously. It’s important to note that the Canadian government recognizes the number of hours in a workweek as opposed to a four-day structure. The number of hours an employee works is already determined in the existing workplace infrastructure.

Read: Juno College phasing in a four-day workweek for all employees

Under the current government employee benefit programs, many of the benefits available are calculated on the number of hours worked, making 40 hours the ‘standard’ working week. This impacts eligibility for programs, such as employment insurance, under the current structure.

The benefit of a four-day workweek being adopted universally across Canada is that it leaves the decision-making up to the individual businesses.