Work less, but work better: the 4-day week, the recipe for you?

In Quebec, the conventional 5-day week is a Fordist capitalist model. It would have been taken from our American neighbors. In fact, the 40-hour work week, the minimum two-week vacation policy and the minimum wage were introduced in the 1960s are part of the minority government of Pearson legacy [1]. Since then, the world of work has changed a lot, but these traditional work conditions remain the norm. Currently, a new trend in North America, inspired by the European (Scandinavian) work organization, is growing in popularity. It is the 4-day week. How about challenging the status quo? Some say it’s the future!

How does this tie in with operations?

Specifically, the idea is to reduce the work week to 4 days a week. However, without increasing the number of hours per day or reducing the salary. How is this realistic? Where are the gains, and for whom? The feasibility for this kind of transformation is not the same depending on the sector of activity and the type of industry. It is important to remember that it is not mandatory to adopt this model drastically. For example, at the Montreal company Poche et fils, as part of the pilot project, they first implemented a four-day week for nine months a year. Finally, because the project was promising, they decided to offer this schedule for the entire year, with a few exceptions. They require two volunteering days per year, a Friday at the end of the year (busy season) and 4 days-week every week, even on weeks when there is a holiday. 2]

And what about productivity?

Studies are unanimous: the 4-day week would have a very positive impact on productivity. Notably, Microsoft decided to experiment the idea for a month in its Japanese offices, where more than 2,300 people work. Not surprisingly, the employees came out happier. What is more surprising is that their productivity increased by almost 40%”[3]. These impressive results can be explained by better a better planning and organization of time and meetings. Happy workers, fewer hours, and more productivity, it’s tempting, isn’t it?

Is it a ready-made recipe?

The danger is to believe that time wasters and long meetings are all concentrated on Fridays, or on that day you want to cut. Employees don’t concentrate their time loss in one day, but rather the entirety of their week. The productivity gains are because employees have the same objectives to complete in less time. What if your organization is already high performing? Organizations that follow the Lean principles, companies that have already figured out how to do more with less on assembly lines, and in call centers are good examples. Less working days, less production. In organizations such as Iceberg Management, where the hunt for waste is already well underway, and where useless meetings are banned, we wonder what kind of productivity benefits we could get. And if we ask employees to maintain the same pace, the same production quotas in 4 days instead of 5 days, aren’t there inherent health and safety risks? Of course, there are.

So far, the real-life case studies on this kind of initiative are very promising. In addition to significantly reducing absenteeism, the 4-day work week would act as a lever to counter the labour shortage. In fact, it is a very attractive employment condition and has the effect of increasing the salary by … 20%! Phew! Think about it! In our company, the principles of Lean take precedence, and if a resource wishes to work 4-day weeks, it is paid proportionally. Just goes to show that all recipes can coexist!

By Audrey Othot et Julie Tardif, CRHA 

Writter du blogue RH – Espace Conseils Iceberg Management