Nearly all Canadian employers that have implemented a four-day workweek report increased employee happiness (96 per cent) and say they’d continue with this schedule indefinitely (93 per cent), according to a new report by York University.

The report, which analyzed responses from around 30 Canadian companies across the public and private sectors that have moved to a four-day workweek, found the majority (90 per cent) said employee productivity has either increased or remained the same, while 86 per cent said they’ve noticed improved recruitment and retention.

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While employer interest in the four-day workweek has been growing in popularity alongside an increase in precarious employment such as gig work, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the shift to a compressed schedule, says Carlo Fanelli, an associate professor of work and labour studies at York University and co-author of the report.

Indeed, three-quarters (73 per cent) of employers involved in the study cited the pandemic as a key factor in implementing a four-day workweek. “Since the 1990s, there has been this growing concept or issue of precarious work that is often low-paid and non-unionized, seasonal or contractual. It was interesting to see, especially in the context of the pandemic, a lot of employers experimenting with ways to attract and retain good workers.”

By offering a four-day workweek, employers can also stand out from the competition amid a challenging labour market, adds Fanelli. “[An employer] might offer comparable wages [to other companies], but they can also say, ‘We offer something they can’t — work-life balance.’”

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The report also cited findings from four-day workweek trials held in other countries. For example,  in a trial in Iceland, held between 2015 and 2019, participating employers reported improvements in work-life balance and overall employee health and reduced stress, with the success of the trial prompting many of the country’s unions to push for the adoption of a four-day workweek in negotiations with employers. Similarly, during a 2022 trial in the U.K., revenue rose by 35 per cent when compared to similar periods from the previous year, while rates of employee stress and burnout dropped by 33 per cent and 71 per cent, respectively.

There are some challenges associated with alternatives to the traditional five-day workweek, says Fanelli, noting increased worker fatigue is a potential concern for companies in sectors that require physically demanding and/or outdoor work and for employers that compress a 40-hour workweek into four days, as opposed to those that reduce both the number of days and hours in a workweek.

However, among these employers, the pros of a compressed schedule outweighed the cons. “[These employers] said a compressed schedule created some challenges that had to be rectified,” he says. “But when I asked them if they would want to go back, they said, ‘No, we wouldn’t want to go back — it’s still an improvement [over the five-day workweek].’”

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