Fewer hours, same pay: How 4 N.S. non-profits are making a shorter week work

This article was originally published by CBC NS on May 7th 2024 and can be found here. 

Lydia Phillip now has more time to spend outdoors, hang out with family and friends and pursue creative endeavours she couldn’t before.

The reason? Her employer, Impact Organizations of Nova Scotia (IONS), has adopted a four-day workweek.

“That three-day weekend really does wonders when you show up again on Monday. It’s a totally different attitude, I feel personally,” said Phillip, who works as a content strategist with the non-profit organization.

“Just coming back to work, like feeling so much more refreshed and energized, and it’s easier for that creativity to flow when you’re not feeling stretched so thin or so burnt out.”

IONS is one of four non-profit organizations in Nova Scotia that have officially adopted 32-hour workweeks after completing successful pilots. New Dawn Enterprises, the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, and the Ecology Action Centre are the others.

It’s part of a growing trend of shorter workweeks. Several municipalities in Nova Scotia have adopted the four-day week — but with longer daily hours.

That’s not the case for these non-profits. While hours were reduced, their pay was not.

Phillip, who had a hand in implementing the pilot at IONS, said the goal was to increase total compensation as an organization, while reducing burnout, increasing recruitment and retention, and promoting health and wellness of employees.

“Often four-day workweeks can also come with the expectation that you’re squeezing in more things into a shorter week, but we really wanted to challenge that notion and just take care of ourselves,” Philip said.

Stephanie Gilbert, an associate professor of management and marketing at Cape Breton University, was tasked by IONS to analyze the results of each pilot.

She said each non-profit reported a better work-life balance with little to no decrease in productivity.

“We noticed a significant decrease in burnout, a significant decrease in stress over the course of this pilot,” Gilbert told CBC Radio’s Information Morning Cape Breton.

“People reported reduced intentions to quit, so hopefully that will translate to better retention over time.”

She said employees also reported having better relationships at work and were more likely to help one another. 

Employees were also afforded more time to meet the demands of life, she said, like going to medical appointments and taking care of their children. They also had more time to pursue hobbies, spend time with family and volunteer in their community.

“Many of the executive directors are noticing a really improved quality and quantity of job applications when they’re recruiting … I think for these four organizations, it has positive benefits and a lot of the employees are really happy with the change,” she said.

Still, there were some challenges. Some employees struggled to get their work done in only four days, Gilbert said, and Monday mornings became overwhelming due to the number of emails that had piled up over the three-day weekend.

But teams adjusted, she said, by reducing the number of morning meetings so employees could focus on responding to emails.

“They had to really prioritize what was most important,” she said.

Maggy Burns, executive director of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, said shifting the daily workflow was key to making the new schedule work.

The centre launched its own 32-hour workweek pilot in the fall of 2022, before officially adopting the shorter schedule last summer. All employees now work Monday to Thursday.

“We want to live in a world that values having quality time in nature and beneficial experiences — not just being on a treadmill of work, work, work, work, work,” Burns said.

She said after they completed the pilot, 100 per cent of employees wanted to continue working the shorter schedule.

Burns said it’s important to implement a mentality of “this doesn’t have to be perfect — it has to be great enough” when making the switch.

“It’s easy for us to be pulled in many directions, so this was helpful for us in terms of focusing on what would have the most impact.”