Last spring, Leena Yousefi called a surprise company-wide meeting at her boutique law firm in Vancouver to announce that the office was switching to a four-day work week, effective immediately.
“We were very busy at the time. Everyone was overwhelmed and Leena thought this was a good way to give us a bit more work-life balance,” said William DeWolf, a lawyer at the family law practice YLaw.
DeWolf recalls how he and his colleagues were floored at the possibility of having an extra day off each week.
A year later, everyone at the firm — from the partners to the law clerks — continues to work a compressed week of nine hours a day over four days, instead of eight hours a day over five days.
During busy periods, DeWolf says employees will work a five-day week. But overall, productivity is up and financial targets are being met or exceeded amid the shortened weeks.
More importantly, employees now have the flexibility to better manage their lives outside of work.
DeWolf says it’s typical for lawyers to put in 60 to 80 hour weeks at other firms.
On his extra day off, he goes skiing with his son, books hair and doctor appointments, or heads to Costco rather than wait to fight the crowds on the weekends.
“Last week, I took a long walk with my dog because the weather was just so nice,” he said.
Studies have shown that productivity stays the same at firms that have implemented shortened work weeks but employee morale and employee well-being increases, notes Michael Halinski, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at Ryerson University.
“If you have improved employee well-being, you’re more likely to retain staff that are more likely to be committed to the job and less likely to have turnover,” he said.
“If you can help employees out without negatively impacting performance, then you’re golden.”
More Canadian companies are turning to the idea of a four-day work week as a tool to retain and recruit employees amid the current tight labour market.
“Essentially what COVID-19 has forced us to do is re-evaluate what we value in our lives,” said Halinski.
“Does making more money make us happier or does spending time with our family?”
Author Alexandra Samuel called an employer’s ability to offer a shortened or compressed work week a “real differentiator” in a competitive labour market.
“There is really nothing magical about 40 hours that makes that the right length of a work week,” said Samuel, who writes about digital and remote work.
“The nature of work now is so different that measuring it by hours mostly is besides the point. Secondly, there are real gains to be had from having people show up refreshed.”
Global tax accounting firm KPMG Canada is giving its 10,000 employees a chance to make every weekend a long weekend, at least over the summer.
“It came out loud and clear that people value time off,” said Emily Brine, managing director of firm operations and talent and culture at KPMG Canada.
“We’re giving them additional time off to spend with family, friends or do what matters most to them.”