4-day work week: What do you think?

May 27, 2020 | Blog | 19 comments

The COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted all aspects of our lives.

During the upheaval our strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats have been exposed. We can either strive to put the pieces back together exactly as they were before the disruption, or we can thoughtfully and critically make changes that benefit people and the planet.

Last week New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern floated the idea of a four-day work week for her country. My colleague Sonia Furstenau raised the issue in an interview while discussing the economic recovery and potential changes that could be made in our province.

COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our society. My constituency and legislative offices are shuttered and I and my staff have been working from home for weeks now. While aspects of the situation are not ideal there are some benefits as well.

More people are working from home. Tech firms such as the Canadian giant Shopify are adapting their workplace to allow their employees to continue to work from home if they wish.

It’s not just where people are working that has changed. Our start and finishing times are evolving to accommodate the other aspects of life that need our attention. For example our family is challenged daily with balancing work demands with our children’s education.

400,000 British Columbians lost their jobs in March and April. It is impossible to know how many more will be impacted in May and the upcoming summer months. With such devastation in our society and economy it is important that our recovery creates more resilience and stability for people and families to create a healthy life in our province and country.

That is what I am focused on.

I honour the deeply challenging times many British Columbians are facing. How people are going to pay the bills is certainly top-of-mind, but people are also concerned with how they can work from home, educate their children and balance all the other complications that have become much more prominent in the past few weeks.

Employers are trying to figure out how they best utilize space for their employees while maintaining government orders and restrictions on creating safe workplaces for British Columbians. None of this is easy and must be addressed with a commitment to be thoughtful and compassionate in the ideas and policy initiatives that we put forward.

With that in mind it is important that we are flexible and agile in our approach. There is nothing sacred about the five-day work week. Indeed, before the Great Depression people worked five and a half or six days per week.

In the last election I and my BC Green Caucus colleagues ran on a platform of innovation. Innovation is not just how or where we make widgets. It’s about how,

  • How we train and deploy a workforce to be flexible, adaptable and resilient,
  • Where and when they work,
  • How products are designed and manufactured,
  • How services and experiences are delivered, and
  • How all of these considerations impact how human resources are deployed.

There are many questions about how, where and for how long we work. The provincial government has an opportunity to facilitate these discussions and not shut them down unnecessarily. We have been hearing from stakeholders in many sectors that they are interested in exploring ideas and looking at ways they could be implemented.

It would be a great tragedy of this time if our response to this difficulty is to shut down conversation and just embrace the status quo.

There is a lot more work to be done on this idea. For it to be successful in British Columbia it must be informed and shaped by all the stakeholders including the business community, organized labour and workers. I’m excited that we opened this conversation in our province and encouraged by the responses we have received so far.

I would like your feedback. What do you think about a 4-day work week? Would it be an option that you would like? What are some of the benefits you can see and what are some concerns that you have about this policy? Please leave a comment below or send me an email.

To learn more check out this article from The Atlantic.

Image by tigerlily713 from Pixabay

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  1. Amber Harvey

    I would prefer a four day workweek if I were still in the work force. The schools in my district are in session 4 days a week and it works for most people.

  2. David Pearce

    Hi Adam, are we talking about a compressed work week which means we work the same number of hours but over four days or are we talking about a reduced workweek where we work fewer hours per week, presumably over four days? I am solidly in favour of reduced work time. Depending on which source we read, productivity has more than doubled in recent decades. So why are we engaged in a race with no finish line? I feel the Green party is the only party willing even willing to address this issue. In the past I’ve raised this will issue with members of other parties and they simply told me to bug her off and get a life. I am foursquare behind Sonya’s proposals as I understand they involve reduced work time.

  3. Dan

    As a self-employed small business owner it will do nothing for me except restrict my ability to take on employees. Raising the cost, and complexity, of doing business always has the effect of reducing available employment – every raise in the minimum wage, which for an employer must also include all the benefits, so translates to about an extra 50% in real costs- means that I hire fewer people. I am not talking about Amazon sweatshops, or Walmart profits on the backs of the workforce, I am referring to Mom & Pop stores where I actually make less than anyone who works here but take all the risk, like right now when I still pay full rent and do not even make that in sales since March. Perhaps sharing the risks with employees by way of profit sharing as the only income and requiring they invest their savings in the company – both of which are my situation – would reveal that not all employers are greedy capitalists. And I voted NDP provincially and Federally the past 2 elections, btw.

  4. Dave Stephen

    I do think the 4-day work week is worth investigating and assessing. We are seeing a lot of re-thinking my business, industry about how they will operate in the future, i.e. more home-office employees, less/smaller ‘office’ or business space, hours worked vs. outcomes achieved. Having noted that I am not comfortable seeing a government-imposed 4 day work week. Maybe it’s an option, but leave it to the businesses/industries to evaluate what will be efficient and fair, and be part of negotiations with unions, employees. My .02c

  5. John Mullane

    Yes, the intelligent step would be examine the value of a four day work week for society. Some of businesses’ concerns would be addressed by providing a guaranteed minimum income. Also, the government needs to enhanced government medical coverage to take the provision of employees benefits away as a concern for business. The bottom line is these steps would prove cost effective for taxpayers, business, and society.

  6. A Jensen

    I’m 100% in favour of a four day work week. We’ve all learned a lot during Covid 19 and less materialism with more life work balance seem more welcome in the new normal. And quite frankly long overdue.

    Many folks have found working from home to be beneficial and definitely better for the environment with less commute pollution and stress.

    I’d be v happy to support legislation towards making a four day work week a reality. The sooner the better.

  7. David Collins

    Yes, a move in the right direction, towards a work-life balance.

  8. John Cake

    Hello Adam. I must admit that 4 day work week would have been very attractive for me before I retired. As I got older I don’t think a longer day though would be as interesting. I certainly would not have been performing at my best past 8 hours if even that long. Mandating a 4 day week seems to me to be only good for some and a big problem for others. To me it would be more helpful to more people to have a liveable basic income so that one could afford to negociate the work week with one’s employer that would better suit both. The basic income would, I am sure, save the government money as it would reduce the bureaucracy and costs of a huge number of social programs that sometimes have people in need fall through the cracks. The other side of that idea is that the income tax system must be tightened up so that those who have a high income get to pay it back as well as a more fair share of tax.

    Thank you for your service to our community.

  9. Danny Kells

    Hi Adam – I worked for the BCLDB at head office in IT. We had a 4 day work week starting around 1990 and it was a great help to every member of the staff. A monthly schedule was created with everybody given an opportunity to switch shifts with others and that all went a very long way to creating a beneficial workplace for all of us. I strongly advocate for this as a stress reliever and as a way to give people more time to enjoy off work activities (called your real life). I think as a side effect, sick time was also much reduced.

    Thanks, Dan

  10. Jan

    The Netherlands has been working 4 x 9hour days for sometime. It works there, and their economy as per GDP is stronger than Canada’s.

  11. Lois

    Adam: I think sharing available work is a good idea just like sharing any resource in a time of need is the ethical thing to do. I think advantages are increased time for family, friends and hobbies which contributes to healthy emotions, always a bonus for the whole of our community and each person. The burn out frenzy of the last few decades has cost individuals and our community.
    If we can make sure that the four hour work week provides sufficient money for needs and a tiny bit beyond needs, then it makes sense. Resistance will come if no one will have enough money. Living wage would go a long way to supporting individuals who might need a small top up to their income. I would think that would be cost effective rather than EI or other government supports needed because a person has no job.
    Keep your novel ideas coming. Perhaps a mosaic of many ideas will be the solution.

  12. Christina Peacock

    Just learned a bit about “doughnut economics” by Kate Ratworth…. valuing much more than wage earned/expenses paid. A 4 day work week allows for social, environmental and cultural work to happen in a more balanced way: growing a garden, spending time with family, learning new skills. ABSOLUTELY a concept worth exploring.
    I have been working a 4day week for the past 15 months and love it!! I take Wednesdays away from work. The time has allowed me to care for family and friends in critical situations, do volunteer work on strengthening regional food security, expand food growing garden and prepare meals slowly, and so much more. I am healthier and more energetic when I go to work. And I’m at “work” for 2 days, away for 1 day, back for 2, away for 2…. you get it!!!
    Yes, it has affected my income, and has also reduced my costs.

  13. Sheila Dunnachie

    I’m definitely in favour of a four day week. I am retired now but when I did work and was able to (for some of that time) work four days a week, it made a big difference in my life – less commuting, more family time, etc. But it also means that more people can be employed if we all now do 5 days and move to 4, 20 per cent more people are required and that spreads employment.

  14. David

    It makes sense! SD64 May have some insights into how it works for them.

  15. susan

    i have always thought it would be better to share jobs…working a 4 day week may go towards this.
    Working from home when possible would be great….zoom business meetings to eliminate or drastically reduce business travel is a must.
    Fewer flights imperative for climate change.
    Also..one child families should be encouraged. I don’t know how many parents are finding things so much harder with multiple children at this time.
    More pedestrian only streets in towns.
    Higher pay for minimum wage. Local farmers supported, small businesses encouraged.

  16. Lisa Cross

    I fully support a 4 day work week. I believe it creates a better life balance.

  17. Em

    It’s a brilliant idea. I’m for a 4 day week without compressed hours. Keep up the great work.

  18. Cat Allsopp

    After reading for years about the benefits on both the individual and societal levels, I’m fully supportive of moving to a four-day work week!

  19. Curt Firestone

    With un-controlled global population explosion, we must do everything possible to give people an opportunity to work at a living wage. A 4 day work week with a 5 day salary is excellent.



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