A shorter workweek may be part of the solution to escalating burnout and mental injuries among working Canadians and is beneficial to companies too, recent research suggests.
Forty-one Canadian and American companies participated in six-month trials between February 2022 and April 2023, exploring how a shorter workweek impacts workers and businesses. Each company chose how to reduce work hours
but was required to maintain the same pay and benefits
“We’re excited to keep the 4-day week in place beyond the pilot
, and our teams remain deeply committed to the practice and preserving our productivity metrics,” says Tara Vanderloo, Chief Experience Officer,
Sensei Labs, one of the Canadian companies that participated in the trial. “More than one of our team members has called this life-changing, which is the best feedback we could have.”
Significant mental health benefits
In fact, the shorter workweek trial, organized by non-profit 4 Day Week Global and researchers from Boston College, was life-changing for workers across a range of indicators
. With fewer work hours, six in ten reported declining conflicts between work and family and work and life. Almost three-quarters were more satisfied working a four-day week.
Not surprising then, mental health improved significantly
with almost seven in 10 workers reporting less burnout and four in 10 saying they are less stressed. Significant improvements in physical health were also reported.
All workers participating in this trial report a desire to continue with a shorter workweek. Their employers reported a similar sentiment and for good reason.
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Benefits for business too
Employee retention rates soared with one in three who’d seriously considered leaving their job saying they were now less likely to move on. Many employers reported more success attracting new workers. Other efficiencies found included less time spent on internal tasks and meetings, along with fewer sick and personal days taken
Overall, participating businesses report either positive or neutral productivity and performance outcomes
despite the shorter workweek. For those companies reporting financial performance, revenue increased by 15 per cent
over the course of the trial.
Benefits sustained over time
This same research also looked at the longer-term impacts beyond the original six-month period for some participating in this recent trial along with prior trials involving organizations in the U.K. and Ireland. The average number of hours worked per week, for instance, fell from 38 hours to 34 hours during the initial trial period. The average continued to fall to under 33 hours each week after an additional six months.
“It’s important to note this continued reduction in hours was not achieved via increased work intensity where people had to speed up and cram five days of tasks into four,” explains Boston College Professor Juliet Schor who led this research. “Instead, they operated more efficiently and continued to improve these capabilities as the year progressed.”
Additional data obtained after 12 months from the start of the original trials also suggest work-life balance continued to improve
as did positive physical and mental health outcomes.
Dr. Dale Whelehan, CEO, 4 Day Week Global, spoke to these recent trials in a press release, “We’re delighted to see the positive experience North American participants had on our pilot program and encourage other businesses to follow
these innovative leaders and sign up themselves. We’re equally thrilled with the new data showing people’s success with the 4-day week post-trial. A concern we frequently hear is the novelty will eventually wear off and performance will dwindle, but here we are a year later with benefits continuing to grow
The idea of a shorter workweek is not new. In Iceland, for instance, trials undertaken between 2015 and 2019 were so positive most of the workforce now works shorter hours. In fact, the average workweek went from 38.6 hours in 2019 to 35.8 hours in 2021. Many other trials are also currently underway or scheduled in many jurisdictions around the globe.
While a shorter workweek continues to gain traction, workplaces will also want to address the many other factors negatively impacting worker mental health
such as lack of engagement, social support, civility and respect, along with work overload.
WHSC can help
At Workers Health & Safety Centre we are focused on helping workplace parties understand, identify and address all working conditions that can lead to burnout, stress and mental injuries through quality training. This includes our Psychosocial Hazards and Workplace Mental Health
, Stress in the Workplace
and Workplace Violence and Harassment
training programs offered this fall in our scheduled, in-person or virtual classrooms, and always instructor led. We can also work with you to deliver training at a time and location that works for your workplace.
Need other essential and legally mandated training such as joint health & safety committee Certification, GHS-WHMIS, working at heights, and supervisor competency? Check out our complete in-person and virtual training schedule
Register for WHSC workplace mental health training
Consider too our Hours of Work training course.
Want to know more about this 4-day work week research and other similar trials?
The 4 day week: 12 months on—with new US and Canadian research
Iceland’s journey to a shorter working week
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