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TIP OF THE WEEK: Is it time to test a four-day work week in Orillia?

Reducing work week would allow people to stop 'endlessly chasing a consumerist dream based on the illusory premise that a finite planet can support endless growth'

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In post-pandemic Orillia, some workers will be seeking opportunities in a different and likely more competitive job market. In addition, over time, advances in artificial intelligence are destined to replace many traditional jobs.

Could this new transformed work environment present opportunities to test a four-day work week?  

Over the centuries, work practices have changed dramatically — from slavery and child labour to 12-hour days and seven-day work weeks to our current system, which itself is a relic of the 20th century.

The standard five-day work week was implemented after the Second World War. Now another shift is on the horizon.

Europe, Australia and New Zealand are ahead of North America in offering four-day work weeks. Where these have been implemented, employees report their lives have improved.

They have time to rest, pursue other interests, explore nature, volunteer, enjoy the company of family and friends, and much more.

“Life isn’t about making more money so we can keep buying more stuff; it’s about having time to do things that enrich our lives rather than endlessly chasing a consumerist dream based on the illusory premise that a finite planet can support endless growth,” writes David Suzuki.

There is evidence to suggest that four-day work weeks are good for both employers and employees, boosting employment levels and increasing performance and motivation.

Reduced work hours, flexible schedules and telecommuting can also cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In the USA, the state of Utah gave its government workers a four-day workweek from 2007 to 2011 (it was ended by a change in government), and concluded it saved $1.8 million in energy costs within the first 10 months and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 10,900 tonnes a year.

During the pandemic, many people have worked from home, often with flexible schedules, and learned to use technology for meetings and communication. Many say that they want to continue the practice post-pandemic.

Liz Supinski of the Society for Human Resource Management, writing on the four-day work week, reports that “we do anecdotally see more organizations interested in having the conversation to understand how it works,” although she concedes it doesn’t suit every work situation.

Employers must have serious logistics in place, be able to respond to customers, and still compete.

For example, customer-facing retail and hospitality job fields aren’t well-suited to four-day work weeks and other flexible work-hour arrangements.

“People expect the doors to be open all the time and to be able to go to the restaurant whenever they want,” says Supinski. “It’s not that flexible initiatives can’t be done; it gets more complex.”

However, she also notes that “retention is the number one priority for employers,” and “generally speaking, work-flex variations are one of the least expensive ways to make employees happier.”

Employees should not be afraid to raise the issue of a four-day work week with their boss. Research indicates that companies get productivity improvements and see fewer sick days. Employees should approach their boss with the economic argument, not just with the work-life balance argument.

Will private businesses in Orillia consider this shift? Will the City of Orillia? With many searching for a “new and better normal” once the pandemic is under control, the four-day work week could be part of the life to follow.


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