French River makes compressed work week a permanent option
Four-day work week brought more benefits than challenges, says CAO
A compressed, four-day work week is here to stay at the Municipality of French River in northern Ontario.
The municipality ran a pilot project for much of 2022, seeing if squeezing a regular, five-day work week into just four days would benefit the township staff. About 87 per cent of staff opted into the compressed schedule trial.
The verdict was overwhelmingly positive, leading town councillors to make the schedule permanent at a Jan. 18 council meeting.
"I'm happy that this has worked out and that the employees are enjoying the new work schedule, alongside being able to service our public an extra half-hour per day," said Marc Gagnon, French River's chief administrative officer.
The concept of a compressed work week has been gaining popularity in recent years. It involves the same number of hours as a standard five-day work week, with employees forfeiting some break time and working longer hours in exchange for a three-day weekend.
Shortened schedule brings benefits
Despite employees only working four days each, the municipality managed to extend its service hours to members of the public. Because some workers get the Monday off and others take the Friday, the town office remains open five days per week, but for an extra half hour each day due to the longer workdays.
Gagnon said the benefits included improved morale among workers, no decrease in productivity, improved work-life balance and no negative feedback from people who needed to access services at the office.
An unanticipated benefit, he said, was a drop in the township's carbon footprint.
"We're saving about 250 kilometers or so a week from travel time and commute time of the employees to to work."
Improved employee retention was one promised benefit from a compressed work week, but few studies have had enough time to show whether this bears out. Anecdotally, Gagnon said the four-day schedule improved retention in his township, citing a peculiar source: himself.
"I've stayed on with the municipality, going forward with this new council instead of choosing to retire," said Gagnon. He said his recently improved work-life balance pushed him to delay his retirement.
Overall, Gagnon said 81 per cent of participating workers were satisfied with the compressed schedule.
Compression has drawbacks
Some of the challenges French River faced included difficulties in communication among other departments, though this improved by the end of the pilot. Finding people to staff the office when some employees would need to take leave, sick days or temporarily work from home was also a challenge.
However, according to Zac Spicer, associate professor at York University's School of Public Policy and Administration, a compressed work week brings equity issues.
"The people who were unable to actually participate in the pilots were, primarily, women who had younger children who weren't able to find childcare beyond eight hours a day," Spicer said.
Spicer was part of the team that studied the compressed work week in Zorra Township, in southwestern Ontario, in 2020. French River followed the exact same weekly structure as Zorra used.
"The world of work is changing and the pandemic had a major influence on this, where people sort of began to think about how much of their life they're really willing to ... hand over to any certain employer," said Spicer. "They're really looking for, you know, a little bit more balance in their life."
The compressed work week remains opt-in for French River workers, who can also choose to work a conventional five-day week instead.