I was recently having drinks with some other HR professionals on a Thursday evening and the fact that I don’t work Fridays came up. The typical response I get is envy, some jokes about me working part-time and usually the other person telling me how busy they are.
To be honest, my typical response is usually to become a bit defensive as the implication is that we don’t have as much work as a “normal” organisation for which this model would be unsustainable. In hope of dispelling some of the common beliefs people have about shortened 4-day work weeks, I am going to address them here.
Myth 1: My organisation could never do that – we are too busy
The David Suzuki Foundation is one of the busiest organisations I have ever worked for but it has always had a 4 day work week since it opened its doors in 1991. Every day my colleagues fight to obtain the right to a healthy environment for all Canadians, against climate change, to protect endangered species, promote biodiversity and to work with Indigenous communities to preserve nature. I work alongside scientists, communications and public engagement specialists, technical staff – IT and Finance, strategic planners and assistants who are committed and passionate. For them, this isn’t a job, it is who they are 24/7. I have never heard anyone complain that they are bored, don’t have enough to do or that they don’t feel that what they do is important.
Before I began working at the foundation, I worked full-time — 5 days per week — and I can honestly say that I have never worked harder in my life than I do now. Everyone I work with at DSF seems to be constantly working at a faster pace than anywhere else I have ever been. That sense of “easing into the day” on a Monday morning and “winding down into the weekend” on a Friday afternoon doesn’t exist here. Meetings start at 8:30 am on Mondays and continue through to 5:30 pm on Thursdays. There is always a sense of urgency. As with most non-profits, we need to get things done so we can move on to other things because it may mean preserving the world we love for that much longer. Slowing down just isn’t an option.
Myth 2: Work-life balance must be a breeze!
In theory this seems like it should be true, however, the rest of the world is still on a five day work week, things don’t stop on a Friday just because that’s our designated schedule. Our staff also have the choice of two schedules — Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday — so we are actually open and working five days a week. While we try to respect each other’s time internally, we also have to be responsive when there are deadlines, when external partners need information and when something happens that we need to react to quickly — typically on a Friday afternoon. In short, work life balance on a 4-day work week is better than it is on a 5-day work week but still has its challenges.
Myth 3: Your Fridays must be amazing!
When I first joined DSF I had dreams of what I was going to accomplish on that precious 5th day. I could start a new hobby — learn a new language, become a painter…In reality, everyone else is still working five days a week, and your work doesn’t disappear just because you aren’t in the office. The temptation to just do a little bit — perhaps writing that policy that you wanted to finish, cleaning out your emails, etc. — can be too difficult to resist. Sometimes I think to myself, “I might as well work a little longer because I am lucky that I even have a choice to do so.” Just knowing that our 81-year old founder is busier than all of us and that our work at DSF truly can make a difference, it tends to be difficult to switch off at the end of the day without feeling pangs of guilt.
Myth 4: Your employees must never be stressed!
Each year, we conduct an engagement survey and the extensive comments we get back from employees allow us to identify themes. One of the themes is always workload. Our condensed work week means that everything most organisations accomplish in 5 days has to be done in 4. When your work is emotionally draining as well as complex, by the time Friday rolls around most of us just need that extra day to replenish.
Myth 5: Turnover must never be a problem
While having a 4-day work week is an invaluable tool to attract and retain employees, it also means that individuals who may have outgrown their role and are ready for a new challenge stay longer than they should. It’s hard enough to walk away when you believe in what you do, like your colleagues and see the impact of what you are doing, but add a 4-day work week to the mix and it becomes increasingly difficult to make that tough decision, even when you should.
And the truth?
The 4-day work week allows employees to:
- spend more time with their children/family/friends without using up vacation days
- swap days around on a given week so that when an important personal event is happening on a Wednesday, you can take that day off and work Friday instead without worrying. As more and more of our staff are caregivers both to young children and/or ageing parents, this flexibility is crucial
- attend essential medical/dental appointments outside of work time
- take a long weekend by working Monday – Thursday one week and Tuesday-Friday the next without touching vacation time
At DSF, we understand that by providing a 4-day work week, our staff work at 110% for 4 days to achieve amazing results. If they choose to huddle in bed, binge watching Netflix on the 5th day, they have more than earned it, but what they actually do is:
- Volunteer in their local community and give back
- Work second jobs – often sharing their knowledge with others
- Start and finish diplomas, Masters and PhDs
- Continue to hone their craft as gifted artists through various medias – work wooding, painting, music, design, writing, etc.
- Enjoy the nature they are fighting to preserve
- Sneaking in a couple more hours of work (as is often the case)
Having a truly flexible workplace isn’t just a nice to have, it is the future that we should all be embracing and supporting as employers. If you can’t offer your employees a 4-day work week, offering flexible hours, which empower employees to choose when they complete their work (late starts/early finishes) and where (in the office/at home), is another great option to consider.
Over to you
Now that you have read through the five myths of the 4-day work week, what are your thoughts? If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the Comments section and I will do my best to help you.
About Catherine Gordon
Catherine leads initiatives to ensure that our client, the David Suzuki Foundation, has the people and roles it needs to achieve its goals. Their employees are highly motivated, talented and professional individuals who deserve the organisation’s support to thrive. Catherine works to articulate that support through a talent-management strategy that is aligned with the organisation’s long-term direction.
Originally from Northern Ireland, Catherine moved to London, U.K., after graduation and then to Vancouver in 2005. She has worked in an HR capacity in numerous sectors and organisations throughout her career, which have included law firms, charity, technology and a regulatory body before joining the David Suzuki Foundation. She is a lifelong learner and currently holds the CHRP designation, a Strategic HR Practices certificate from Cornell University, a Certificate from Queens University on Leading a Mentally Healthy Workplace, is a Certified Prepare Training Instructor and has completed a Leadership and Inclusion Certificate through Centennial College.