The 4-day work week is already a reality in some Quebec workplaces. This is how it's going
An Icelandic pilot project has revived the idea, while some employers have quietly been doing it for years
For Alexandre Vignola Côté and his business partner Francis Campbell, offering a four-day work week to their employees was a question of finding the most efficient way for the work to get done.
The pair co-founded Expedibox, an Eastern Townships-based startup that creates smart lockers that let people know by email when they've received a package.
They decided to offer their employees a 32-hour work week, wherein most hours had to be completed between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, while the remaining 12 or so hours could be completed when the workers wanted.
"And if they completed the 32 hours by Friday, they can take it off," Vignola Côté said.
"We always try to find a way to be more efficient, to be quicker, to be more productive in less time."
The results of a pilot project conducted among 2,500 workers across a number of sectors in Iceland made waves last week. Over four years, it found employees exhibited "greater well-being, improved work-life balance and a better co-operative spirit in the workplace — all while maintaining existing standards of performance and productivity."
The Iceland findings are on par with similar experiments conducted in recent years around the world, but their arrival as people mull going back to offices appears to have struck a nerve.
Already, a societal discussion about the future of work was taking place. In June, Time Magazine published an article headlined "The Pandemic Revealed How Much We Hate Our Jobs. Now We Have a Chance to Reinvent Work." And last week, Vox published a story titled "The five-day workweek is dead."
Sabaa Khan's workplace has implemented a four-day work week since its inception in 1997. Khan is the director general of the David Suzuki Foundation for Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
She says the foundation didn't need studies to figure out employees would fare better working four days a week.
"When you look at progressive societal change, that's what the foundation has always been working toward. Our mission is to protect and conserve nature and to shift [away] from harmful patterns of production and consumption," Khan said.
"That also means changing the way we work."
Khan and her colleagues work a 34-hour week, which isn't much less than the typical Canadian work week of 37.5 to 40 hours.
Khan hopes Canada follows Iceland's lead by trying a similar pilot project in the public sector. She, too, believes the COVID-19 pandemic should bring out changes to how we approach work.
"Too many jobs are just not humane enough in this day and age. We saw during the COVID pandemic that some of our most essential workers have the direst working conditions," Khan said.
'Not about producing less, but being more efficient'
Jean-Nicolas Reyt, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at McGill University whose research focuses on the future of work, says the five-day work week is an arbitrary measure implemented about a century ago.
"People are not productive for five days, eight hours a day," Reyt said.
He added that younger generations are beginning to look for more flexibility in their work schedules and environments.
"There is a myth of working hard and getting rich, and young people realize that happiness is a mix of work and life, and they are trying to reach that," he said.
"It's not about producing less but being more efficient."
Reyt said the five-day work week is also becoming outdated as most couples feature both partners working, making it difficult to balance growing a career with growing a family.
But Vignola Côté, of Expedibox, says he's noticed the more seasoned workers at his company are the ones wanting increased flexibility, while younger employees are more concerned about making enough money.
Still, he says the model has been successful for his company and expects to see it become a new norm.
Reyt, the researcher, acknowledges there could be disparities among what kind of workplaces offer shorter work weeks.
For example, workplaces that are more results-based than services-based, such as intellectual work, where it's not about when the work is completed but about its quality and it simply getting done.
Either way, he believes widespread changes to how we work are imminent.
"There is no way we will go back to before," Reyt said. "This is not tenable."
With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and As It Happens