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Chief executive officer Audie McCarthy of Mohawk College Enterprise understood the importance of an extra day off work.Aaron Lynett/The Globe and Mail

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at Mohawk College Enterprise, a professional training business owned by the Hamilton postsecondary school, took a 20-per-cent pay cut and an extra day off per week to help keep the business going.

It was a temporary measure, but after getting a taste of the four-day workweek, some employees wanted to keep it.

Chief executive officer Audie McCarthy understood. While she went back to five days a week when it became possible, she enjoyed the extra day off while it lasted.

“You have that one day to do all the stuff you need to catch up on or maybe another day or spend with family,” she says. “Or a day to myself. If I wanted to sit and read, I just sat and read all day.”

Now, three employees out of Ms. McCarthy’s team of 11 work four-day weeks: two work fewer hours and make less money, while one works a compressed week, which means working longer hours for four days without taking a pay cut.

Ms. McCarthy says the arrangement hasn’t changed much about the still-remote team’s productivity while strengthening commitment from those who appreciate the flexibility – observations that parallel scholarly research into the four-day workweek.

Clémentine Van Effenterre, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Toronto, says research shows productivity is not likely to decline with a move to a shortened week. In fact, it often increases.

“If the productivity gains of having a healthier, happier work force are significant, they could [improve] your sales,” Dr. Van Effenterre says.

She believes the idea is gaining traction because of technological advances that help give employees more flexibility and a tight job market that makes it easier for workers to negotiate perks.

Dr. Van Effenterre says there’s also anecdotal evidence the pandemic has led people to rethink what they want out of their employment situation but believes it hasn’t been adequately studied to say for sure.

“One thing we know is [many workers are] not going to consider an alternate working arrangement if it means cutting wages,” she says, adding that there isn’t much of a push for compressed hours, either. The majority of workers, she says, want to work less for the same amount of pay.

While it may seem radical to employers, Dr. Van Effenterre says the shorter workweek is part of a decades-long shift.

“Over the whole 20th century, we have gradually decreased the number of hours worked in a typical workweek,” she says.

She says that deciding whether to have everyone work the same four days or run a staggered schedule depends on the business and how important co-ordination is between workers. For example, a team in a factory that requires numerous people working on a task simultaneously might choose for everyone to work the same four days, while customer-facing teams who want someone available for clients each workday might stagger their days off.

At Mohawk College Enterprise, business development officer Leanna DiCecca works a condensed week, squishing five days’ worth of hours into four days, giving her Mondays off without a pay cut.

Ms. DiCecca says having a weekday to go to doctors’ appointments and run errands helps her be more present when she’s at work.

“Having that extra day makes me feel better,” says Ms. DiCecca, who also uses Mondays as an extra day with her younger child, who is not yet in school. “I come into work on a more positive note and feel more motivated.”

Ms. DiCecca says a supportive team has been crucial to her success with her new schedule. She knows her colleagues won’t mind helping out her clients while she’s away, just like they know she’ll help if they’re on vacation or working a shortened week.

“We all have unique schedules,” she says, adding the workplace flexibility makes her feel more committed to the job. “I feel supported, and it makes me want to work harder.”

Dr. Van Effenterre says one of the challenges for companies considering a shortened week is maintaining high wages to attract the most productive workers.

For workers, potential hurdles include being perceived as less committed if some people go to four days and others stay full-time, and potentially losing out on promotion opportunities as a result.

“If people are as productive, it shouldn’t affect things,” she says. “But [some managers] rely on other more subjective things.”

She says this could particularly affect women, who are more likely to prefer flexible work due to child-care responsibilities.

“If [adopting a four-day week] means more gender inequity, that is not a good thing,” she says.