Your boss may not be able to resist the 4-day workweek for much longer

Victoria Wells: Evidence of schedule’s benefits for both employees and employers continues to pile up

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Employers may not be able to resist a four-day workweek for much longer if one recent study highlighting even more compelling evidence of the schedule’s benefits is any indication.

In good news for both employees keen to secure better work-life balance and employers wanting to protect their bottom lines, the four-day workweek was found to overwhelmingly lead to happier workplaces without hurting productivity, according to a preliminary research report from York University.

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More than 95 per cent of those with four-day workweeks reported healthier, happier work environments, according to researchers Carlo Fanelli and Maria Foggia, who looked at data from across 30 different companies and 3,500 workers. Meanwhile, productivity didn’t suffer and even improved in some cases, 90 per cent of those surveyed said.

Employees reported major decreases in feelings of burnout, stress and fatigue. As a result, their mental health improved, as did job satisfaction. They also discovered they had more time for meaningful activities such as volunteering and caring for children or other family members.

“When you are well rested, you are a much better mom, dad, parent, neighbour, boss, colleague, teacher, student, the list goes on,” one human resources director told the researchers. “Well-rested humans will be able to be more creative and be able to transform and be more compassionate.”

That, in part, seems to be leading to productivity boosts. Employees used fewer sick days and absenteeism improved, the study said, thereby saving companies money. Furthermore, meetings and communication became more efficient, resulting in more work getting done. “The results of this study suggest that shortened and compressed work schedules improve labour productivity and other indicators of economic performance,” the researchers said.

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There were other benefits for employers, too, including improvements in hiring and retention at 86 per cent of companies surveyed. The shortened workweek has proven to be an attractive incentive to job applicants, one employer said, resulting in more applications to postings and a chance to “promote our company as a great place to work.”

What’s more, employees said they saved money from not having to commute as much, which also helped reduce their carbon footprint. Researchers said shortened workweeks might improve traffic and bring down emissions.

With benefits like that, it’s a wonder that more employers don’t hop on board the shortened workweek trend. Of course, negatives also surfaced. For example, some leaders said the initiative led to an increase in their workloads while they navigated the transition. And employees in physically demanding industries such as construction said the schedule made them more tired, especially in the dark days of winter. Other employees said the four-day week made it harder for them to find child care to cover their working hours.

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Still, the benefits outweigh the negatives for many, and Canadians appear to be interested in trying out a four-day workweek. In one recent survey, 93 per cent of employees said they’d be open to trying one. And 91 per cent of senior managers would be supportive of moving to a shortened schedule, according to research from Robert Half Inc. That kind of support could mean the four-day week may succeed in becoming more common, resulting in a more efficient and stronger workforce.

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“In an era characterized by growing dissatisfaction at work, reduced work schedules show it is possible to be just as effective in less time making employees more productive, healthier and happier in the process,” the York University researchers said. “It may open up new spaces to … create a more equitable and enriching future of work.”

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A version of this story was first published in the FP Work newsletter, a curated look at the changing world of work. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

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