Research & Evaluations Manager
When I tell people that IONS is piloting a four-day work week, I am immediately met by curiosity and interest, “You must work longer days then?” and “How much was your pay reduced?” When I respond that I don’t work extra hours to make up for it and that my pay remains unchanged, the next question is typically, “Is IONS hiring?!” After the initial barrage of questions and some statements of envy, the real question that comes to mind is: Why isn’t everyone doing this? Who decided that the five-day work week was the best way of working and why?
When we think about our typical Western way of working, the 40-hour, Monday to Friday, finds its origins in the manufacturing industry. The five-day work week is commonly attributed to Henry Ford in the early 20th century, who established this schedule so that workers could rest in order to be more productive when returning to work. The issue with this mindset is that we view people through a colonial and capitalist lens. The focus is the quantifiable productivity of human resources which then views rest as a means to increase output. While this has been the status quo for the past century, what we are seeing now is a global rejection of this ideology and way of working. Productivity skyrocketing with the rise of technology aside, we are more than the 9-5 and the value of our labour. And we’re witnessing this show up in ways like quiet quitting and the Great Resignation.
Evaluating the 4-Day Work Week
With the understanding that we need to create workplaces that view employees holistically and that prioritize rest and well-being, the move towards trialing a four-day work week at IONS was a natural next step towards living into our values. This step was not taken alone. IONS, along with three other impact organizations embarked on this journey back in June to pilot the four-day work week and assess its outcomes. With the help of funding from the Change Lab Action Research Initiative (CLARI), we also partnered with a research team from Cape Breton University to conduct a study using validated approaches to understand what impact this change would have on areas of wellbeing, productivity, and retention – and what this could mean for the sector.
Knowing that the Community Impact Sector is sensitive to issues such as burnout, competitive compensation, and employee recruitment and retention, the four-day work week is a unique opportunity and potential solution. Through offering staff the ability to reduce their hours without a reduction in pay, we can level the playing field and increase the attractiveness of the sector. It also creates an extra day or flexible time for rest, for completing chores, and for doing things that bring us joy and rejuvenates the soul. And in this sector, which is focused on the service of others, we could all use a little more rest and time to replenish our energy.
Our goal is to help establish an evidence-based argument for shifting how we work, addressing sustainability in the sector, and providing an opportunity based on data collected here in our own communities, from organizations in our sector.
But is it too Good to be True?
So how is it going? While we have been completing surveys with our research partners, we have also been reflective in our own organization through journal prompts and team check-ins. As Annika Voltan mentioned in her September blog, “Going Slow to Go Fast: Finding Our Focus and Flow”, one of the biggest changes was the understanding that we are not continuing the same level of work simply compressed into four days. The goal is not to do it all in less time. This meant being intentional with what we have committed to, with our meeting times, how we share tasks and roles, and connecting it all back to our purpose and theory of change – our “Why.”
While the response from our team has been overwhelmingly positive, there are a few considerations that we can’t ignore. First, the external pressure to take on additional employment is immense. From the influence of grind culture and side-hustles – even in conversations with well-meaning friends and family, there is a lot of pressure to fill that time with paid work. I’ve personally found it an intentional activity to not fill that day with outside work and to unlearn the mindset of my value being tied to my outputs.
Secondly, the four-day work week can also create tensions if it is not equitably administered. At IONS we are fortunate to be able to all take Friday off, as we are not required to provide services around the clock. For sector organizations where this is not the case, this type of change could result in feelings of resentment, frustration, and being undervalued if some employees are able to rest while others are required to work. This would mean that intentional efforts will be required to include frontline staff to ensure that implementation would not simply benefit those in managerial positions or knowledge workers. This potentially could look like:
- Reduced working hours (e.g. 30 hours spread over 5 days);
- Not everyone having the same day off (e.g. some may have Monday off while others have Friday off); or
- a raise/ compensation for those who must maintain a standard 5-day work week.
Like any change, there have been some bumps along the road, but what has emerged is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. We talk about being proud of our organization and we’re happy to work for leadership that understands that we are humans first, with commitments and asks that exist outside of our work. There has been comments about being able to book preventative health appointments, time for recreation, sailing, flying (yes, we do have a pilot on the team!), going to the gym, time to read and dive into our hobbies, and time for being present with our families and friends. There’s also the space to brainstorm creative ideas for our work as we’re showing up more energized and refreshed Mondays. In just this short time, our team has already identified feeling some alleviation of the burnout many of us have been carrying.
Moving forward, we are going to continue to track our progress in this pilot, highlighting our stuck points and promising practices. We are energized by the opportunity to model what this change could look like for those working here in Nova Scotia, and we are excited that the Community Impact Sector can be a leader in this transformation. We invite you to follow along with our journey as we document the process, and we look forward to sharing it all with you next spring!
In the meantime, I’m setting my out-of-office every Friday and enjoying the extra time to focus on some learning, getting some much-needed chores done, and enjoying some motorcycle therapy around our beautiful province!
Research & Evalutions Manager
As a Maritimer, a big thinker, and a self-described extrovert, Reg’s work includes researching and engaging with the Community Impact Sector to understand the conditions for organizations to thrive. His current work covers the topics of burnout, sector sustainability, and measuring impact.
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