Nova Scotia

'Overwhelmingly positive': Why this N.S. non-profit is adopting a 4-day work week

Cape Breton’s New Dawn Enterprises wants to empower employees to set their own work schedules and find better work-life balance. It’s why the non-profit agency is permanently moving to a four-day work week. 

Cape Breton's New Dawn Enterprises says their shortened work week pilot was a success

A woman sitting at a desk smiles and talks to someone else.
Erika Shea is the president and CEO of New Dawn Enterprises in Sydney, N.S. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

Cape Breton's New Dawn Enterprises wants to empower employees to set their own work schedules and find better work-life balance. It's why the non-profit agency is permanently moving to a four-day work week. 

President and CEO Erika Shea told Information Morning Cape Breton that New Dawn ran a six-month pilot program starting in June with a reduced-hour work week. Employees could choose to work four days, or five shorter ones.

"Part of this was wanting to extend that autonomy, flexibility and self-determination that our senior managers have always had to the rest of the organization," Shea said. 

The Sydney-based non-profit community development organization employs more than 175 people and serves 600 Cape Bretoners through its projects including the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration and Meals on Wheels.

Shea's conversation with Information Morning Cape Breton host Steve Sutherland has been condensed and edited for clarity. You can listen to the full interview here:

The President and CEO of New Dawn Enterprises, Erika Shea, explains why they are permanently moving to a four day work week after giving it a try as a 6 month pilot.

Tell us about the pilot and about how it went.

The feedback from staff and managers was overwhelmingly positive. We heard that it was allowing people more time with their families, more time to get things done that they needed to at home, slowing their overall pace of life, supporting better mental health, giving them time to come down from the pace and intensity of work and do some deeper reflection.

So overall just across the board, everyone enjoyed the pilot and there was overwhelming support for making it a permanent feature of how we work.

Did you measure productivity?

We asked a number of questions in our surveys about whether people were able to keep on top of deadlines. We did check in regularly on whether everyone was able to keep on top of the most important things in their days and weeks.

Most people, most of the time, were able to get most of their work done in the work day in the shorter work week. 

What were the elements that made you say, 'Let's do it, let's make this a permanent thing?'

I think we were able to sense pretty early on a change in the atmosphere in the organization. There was a relaxing, deep gratitude for the opportunity to try this out. A lot of excitement around sort of being at the forefront in terms of COVID- related changes to workplace culture.

We saw a real markable difference in the calibre of applicants to vacancies that we posted during the pilot, making it clear in our postings that this was something we were undertaking. And giving everyone more autonomy, freedom, flexibility, decision-making authority really seems to align with what we understand as being good for human beings. 

What about the people who use your services who may not be on a four-day work week, like the Meals on Wheels program or the Immigration Office?

So the majority of our services continue to be five-day-a-week services and we have alternating schedules to keep everything running as usual. Meals on Wheels, we transitioned to delivering two meals on Thursday. And that actually solved an unrelated longstanding challenge of the program. Fridays are the hardest days to get consistent volunteers. Our immigration centre sets its operating hours based on client demand. So they are now open Tuesdays to Fridays.

And in both cases, the most important thing throughout this pilot phase was really proactive communication with clients so that they didn't encounter this unexpectedly and it didn't create any inconveniences in their days and lives.

I think it would still be mind-boggling to a lot of small business owners or managers that you could give employees a 20 per cent pay increase, have them work 20 per cent less and have it not impact your operations.

One of the things that we learned a long time ago in terms of the work that we do and how we do our work is that once people have committed their hearts to the mission, policing, monitoring, tracking where their bodies are in [a] space becomes a lot less important.

We're really lucky to have a strong and growing team of people who believe really deeply in the work that we do. And I think for us it's a question about what kind of challenges we want to have. Do we want to have challenges around hiring, recruitment and staff burnout? And that's not going to get better if we ignore it because change is hard or inconvenient.

So we thought, let's lean in and sort of listen to our physiology and see if we can build a work week around that. 

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton

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