Timely decision Pandemic has inspired businesses to embrace the four-day work week, with no loss in productivity

The pandemic has spurred some companies to do away with the five-day work week.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$1.50 for 150 days*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.

The pandemic has spurred some companies to do away with the five-day work week.

J. Richard Partridge’s staff now work 4 1/2 days weekly. Soon, that number will drop to four.

“I’m trying to give back time to our people,” Partridge, the CEO of JRP Employee Benefit Solutions, said.

Majority of MB businesses returning to office: poll

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce polled 176 businesses on the future of work at the beginning of April. Over half of respondents — 55 per cent — said they’d return to the office full-time. Two in five were following a hybrid model at the time, while six per cent who’d worked in the office pre-pandemic were fully remote.

Just seven per cent of businesses said they don’t expect their employees to return to the office. Thirty-eight per cent said they’d continue a hybrid structure.

A strong majority — 70 per cent — checked “no” when asked if they feared losing staff over a return-to-work mandate.

— Gabrielle Piché

Pre-pandemic, his staff would be in the office five days a week. Now, they work remotely and come to the office when they want — as long as it’s not Friday afternoon.

The 25 workers are off after noon on Friday. They still work eight-hour days during the week, including a one-hour lunch and two 15-minute breaks. There haven’t been pay cuts; instead, there have been bonuses, Partridge said.

“I feel like, with technology, we can do more in less time,” Partridge said. “I think about what we’re doing today 50 years ago — I don’t need five days to do what it once took full-time work to do.”

The pandemic made Partridge reflect on how valuable time is, he said. The 41-year-old has two children and not many hours to pursue hobbies, such as learning to play the piano.

“You see how stressed-out people are, and you see the toll that social media and being plugged into the phone (takes)… People are constantly working,” Partridge said.

“Two days is not enough to relax and recharge anymore. If someone can take a Friday afternoon off to do their shopping, their laundry, to clean up the house, to actually fully enjoy Saturday and Sunday, I want them to have that.”

Partridge piloted the 4 1/2-day work week last summer. He’ll do the same with a four-day week this July.

Employees of the professional services company have a detailed schedule of what must be done hour by hour at work, and progress is continuously updated. The team members have virtual and in-person meetings to connect.

Partridge said he got complaints about micromanagement when the new system began, but people now like the certainty and lack of confusion, he added.

“You’re the captain of a ship; you need to know that that vessel is on course,” he said.

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press JRP Employee Solutions CEO J. Richard Partridge: ‘Two days is not enough to relax and recharge’

If anything, productivity has been better since shortening the work week, Partridge said. It’s also been a draw for potential hires.

“I don’t think that every business can do what we’ve done,” he said. “I think that if you’re in a certain business, this is just a difficult thing.”

Acuity HR Solutions is also considering a four-day work week, according to president Brad Lutz.

The company has taken Fridays off in the summer months for the past four years. If a client needs help on Friday, someone will jump in.

Productivity is the same or better, Lutz said.

And, he’s working with many clients who have transitioned to four-day work-week models.

“The four-day work week is definitely gaining traction,” he said.

His office continues eight-hour days (with no salary cuts). Some places, including manufacturers, are opting for four 10-hour days, Lutz said.

“The four-day work week is definitely gaining traction.” – Brad Lutz

However, there are downsides to the longer shifts.

“If it’s a heavily physical environment, then there are going to be some safety concerns with respect to fatigue, and you could have some sprain/strain injuries,” Lutz said.

White-collar jobs requiring significant focus could leave workers mentally taxed near the end of the day, he added.

Companies across Canada are piloting a four-day work week through 4 Day Week Global, a non-profit based in New Zealand.

Five Canadian businesses, including Fresh Squeezed Ideas and Blue Sky Philanthropy, began their six-month experiments around the beginning of April. Organizations who have signed on go through workshops and receive mentorship from others who have switched to four-day work weeks.

Companies’ performances are tracked and compared to their five-day work week productivity by Boston College, said Joe O’Connor, 4 Day Week Global’s CEO.

“We’re hoping to recruit a much more sizable number of Canadian companies (in the future),” O’Connor said.

Employees in the program keep their full pay, work 80 per cent of the time and maintain 100 per cent productivity, 4 Day Week Global touts.

“I think the whole flexibility– working from home, managing your own hours when you’re productive — is probably more important.” – Brad Lutz

American businesses — such as crowdfunding platform Kickstarter — and companies overseas, including in the United Kingdom and Australia, are participating.

Lutz isn’t convinced a four-day work week is best.

“I think the whole flexibility — working from home, managing your own hours when you’re productive — is probably more important,” he said.

Flex time is brought up more often with clients, Lutz said.

“That’s the changing role of an effective leader,” he said. “Managers need to get away from managing, ‘You need to be in your seat from this time till this time’… (and instead) manage somebody’s outcomes.”

It’s a job seekers’ market, and now, it’s more common for workers to prioritize benefits such as paid time off and the option to work remotely over slightly more pay at an in-office job, Lutz said.

An easing of caution

Attending a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event now involves picking a sticker: red, yellow or green.

Each colour indicates a comfort level. The blazing red is a reminder to keep distant, while yellow is an OK for elbow bumps and greens are ready to hug and handshake.

The latter hue has been most popular lately, said Loren Remillard, the chamber’s president.

“Some people might even say, ‘I don’t need a sticker anymore,’” he said.

Attending a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event now involves picking a sticker: red, yellow or green.

Each colour indicates a comfort level. The blazing red is a reminder to keep distant, while yellow is an OK for elbow bumps and greens are ready to hug and handshake.

The latter hue has been most popular lately, said Loren Remillard, the chamber’s president.

“Some people might even say, ‘I don’t need a sticker anymore,’” he said.

The uptick in green stickers mirrors the rise in businesses attending chamber events. An earlier pandemic-era luncheon might hold 200 attendees; more recent meetings see more than 300.

Red and yellow stickers were abundant when the system was first introduced — to a much smaller crowd — over a year ago.

“The general feeling is we’re moving quickly into that endemic stage where we’re learning to live with (COVID-19),” Remillard said.

Rules around vaccination are largely not a main focus for companies, he said.

“Businesses now are really trying to make sure they have sufficient staff to get back up and running,” he said. “I’m not hearing a lot of businesses talk about the vaccine mandate.”

Still, it’s hard to say, as it’s an internal issue for private businesses, Remillard said.

“There is a shortage of skilled, qualified people right now,” he said. “If (employers) want to be able to attract and retain talent, they’re going to have to find a flexible work environment.”

Lutz predicts there won’t be a return to full-time office work for most companies.

Some places — including his — are planning to have one day a week where everyone is physically together. It’s a time for team meetings, Lutz said.

“People have experienced less human connection over the last two years than they probably have perhaps before, and mental-health issues are coming into play,” he said.

Tory McNally, director of human-resource services at Legacy Bowes, said her crew will come into the office in weeklong shifts.

The company is split into two — a recruitment side and a human-resources side — and one team per week will take the office. Legacy Bowes may add a third week into the rotation where people can volunteer to come in and mingle.

“I think we’ll always have to be in a situation where we won’t be all in the office at the same time,” McNally said.

Legacy Bowes has grown during the pandemic, and there aren’t enough desks for workers anymore, McNally added.

“It’s nice to just be able to keep that balance of having the socialization but then also having the quiet,” she said of the schedule.

“Once that Pandora’s box is opened, it’s never going to be put back.” – Tory McNally

Many employers seem anxious to get their staff back in the office, but there’s a resistance on the worker level, McNally said.

“Once that Pandora’s box is opened, it’s never going to be put back,” she said.

Many employers plan on phasing in workers throughout the summer months, according to Loren Remillard, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO.

“We’re in a feeling-out period right now,” he said.

Businesses expect to have remote and in-office procedures solidified for autumn, he said.

For some, working from home has never been an option.

“It’s not like a transit driver can say, ‘I’m going to remote work today,’” Remillard said, adding companies are trying “as best they can” to recognize the changing workplace expectations.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents to a March poll by the Angus Reid Institute and CBC said they’d look for a new job if asked to return to the office full-time.

Another 23 per cent said they’d quit on the spot.

gabrielle.piche@winnipegfreepress.com

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press JRP Employee Solutions founder and CEO J. Richard Partridge has been experimenting with a 4.5-day work week at his workplace.
Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

Report Error Submit a Tip