The Way We Work is Changing; Canada Should Embrace a 4-Day Work Week

Updated: Mar 29

Opinion by Alexandra Wilson



Monday to Friday, 9 to 5: a schedule most working Canadians have been familiar with since the early 1900s when Ford Motors reduced their workweek from 48 hours to 40 to enhance employee productivity [1]. Since then, despite increases in employee productivity, the number of hours in the workweek has remained stagnant [2]. According to a 2017 report conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee productivity rose by 5% annually between 1987 and 2015 in manufacturing and retail sectors, but wages never increased beyond 2% annually [3]. As a result, corporations and firms are continuing to profit off increased productivity while employees are seeing little to no benefit from their increased work pace but, it does not have to remain this way. Current labour practice, such as the 40-hour work week, may seem like immutable institutions, but they are not.


Since the onset of COVID-19, the way Canadians work has changed dramatically. With over 5 million Canadians now working from home, and many employees and employers hoping to make this shift permanent, now is the time to revolutionize the way we work [4]. As employers continue to realize that their staff are just as capable of completing their work from home as they are in the office, companies are hoping to make the shift permanent to save on fixed costs such as office space [5]. Companies such as Facebook, Shopify, and Open Text, along with the Public Service of Canada, have already announced that many of their employees will now be working from home permanently and have begun to give up office space [6]. What this has shown, according to Erica Carleton, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan, is that employees are capable of working in vastly different work situations, leading experts and researchers to call for the implementation of a 4-day work week [7].


According to researchers like Carleton, employers and employees are set to benefit from a 4-day work week, just as they have been by working from home [8]. The 4-day work week is set to benefit both employees and employers due to the “happy, productive worker hypothesis” which states that the happier employees are the more productive they will be [9]. The preliminary results of a survey conducted by the University of Reading's Henley Business School seem to substantiate these claims [10]. “505 business leaders and more than 2,000 employees across the country, including over 250 businesses that currently operate with a four-day working week,” were surveyed and found that two-thirds of the businesses operating on a four-day workweek reported improved employee productivity while three-quarters reported being happier [11]. A 4-day work week has also been noted to increase employee retention and company loyalty due to increased job satisfaction and decreased work-related stress [12]. Certain firms have also found that the transition to a 4-day work week has significantly benefited women and narrowed the gender pay gap by creating a more flexible work schedule [13]. The implementation of a 4-day work week allowed women to take less time off to care for their family - a burden still disproportionately placed on women - thereby allowing them to work more paid hours [14]. The importance of flexible work schedules has become increasingly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic as more working adults are having to help their elderly parents and children, who may be learning from home.


Currently, there are two prevailing options with regards to the implementation of a 4-day work week. The first is what is referred to as a four-day compressed work week where employees work 10-hour shifts four days a week rather than 8-hour shifts five days a week [15]. This method, according to Chris Higgins, a professor at Western University’s Ivey School of Business, results in “productivity for white-collar workers… to go way, way up with work at home and four-day work weeks” as employees lose all the distractions of working in the office while capitalizing on reduced commute times [16]. This option is becoming increasingly promising given that, according to StatCan, four in ten Canadian jobs can be carried out online [17]. According to Higgins, however, this boost in productivity does not transfer to blue-collar work [18]. Working 10-hour shifts in a physically demanding job is simply too physically draining to result in any boost in productivity that a 3-day weekend could provide [19].


The second option is to simply pay workers the same salary they were earning when working five days a week while only having them work four days [20]. This approach has been seen to be highly effective in multiple white-collar companies such as Microsoft Japan where it resulted in a 40% increase in company productivity [21]. Similarly, a New Zealand-based company called Perpetual Guardian, which was one of the first firms to shift to a 4-day work week, saw a 6% rise in revenue and a 12.5% rise in profitability [22]. They additionally saw an increase in employee retention, creativity, and job performance [23]. Both firms accomplished this through a variety of means. Firstly, both Microsoft and Perpetual Guardian decreased the duration of their meetings to 30 minutes [24]. Microsoft also capped meetings at five employees and encouraged the use of chat channels to reduce time spent drafting emails between staff members [25]. Perpetual Guardian also eliminated their open-office floor plan to reduce distractions; distractions that have already been eliminated by the shift to working from home [26]. Unlike Microsoft Japan, which closed their offices every Friday, Perpetual Guardian’s office never closed. Instead, they had fewer people working at the same time; something that has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic [27]. Perpetual Guardian and StatCan have noted, however, that the shift to a 4-day work week and working from home is simply not feasible in economic sectors such as retail, hospitality, and foodservice as somebody must be there at all times to serve customers [28].


Despite the limitations of working from home and a 4-day work week for blue-collar, retail, hospitality, and foodservice sectors of the economy, the benefits to productivity, profitability, and employee satisfaction in white-collar industries is something that cannot be ignored. The transition to working permanently from home is only the first step in the revolution of how work will be conducted in the future. Additionally, it provides a great opportunity to transition to a 4-day work week which will not only enhance company profitability by improving employee productivity but will also increase employee happiness. The transition made in the early 1900s by Ford Motors to a 40-hour work week, in part done to increase employee productivity, was also to allow employees to spend their downtime purchasing products and services to increase the circulation of money in the economy; something a 4-day work week could help us accomplish even better today [29]. The move to a 4-day work week can help lift the country out of the recession caused by COVID-19 while also ensuring the safety of Canadians by decreasing the number of concurrent people in workplaces. Thus, given the already substantial changes occurring in Canadians' regular and working lives due to the onset of COVID-19, politicians, business owners, and employees should actively consider the calls for a 4-day work week and the positive effects it could have on productivity, happiness, and economic stimulus.

  1. Bianca Bharti, “Will Justin Trudeau unveil a four-day workweek in Canada?” National Post, May 28, 2020, https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/four-day-work-week-canada-trudeau; Mike Drolet, “Canadians want a four day workweek. But would it work?” Global News, June 26, 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/7007016/canadians four-day-work-week/

  2. Bill Chappell, “4-Day Workweek Boosted Workers’ Productivity By 40%, Microsoft Japan Says,” NPR, November 4, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/11/04/776163853/microsoft-japan-says-4-day-workweek-boosted-workers-prod uctivity-by-40

  3. Bill Chappell, November 4, 2019

  4. Brooklyn Neustaeter, “More Canadaians will be working from home post-pandemic, StatCan data suggests,” CTV News, July14, 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/more-canadians-will-be-working-from-home-post-pandemic-statcan-data suggests-1.5023822; Jen St. Denis, “Nearly 5 million more Canadians are working from home, and many like it: surveys,” CTV News, April 19, 2020, https://bc.ctvnews.ca/nearly-5-million-more-canadians-are-working-from-home-and-many-like-it-surveys-1.4903045

  5. Brooklyn Neustaeter, July 14, 2020

  6. Tara Deschamps, “Canadians working from home permanently should expect salary changes; experts,” CTV News, June 21, 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/business/canadians-working-from-home-permanently-should-expect-salary-changes-experts 1.4993449; Josh Pringle, “Shopify says most employees will permanently work remotely following COVID-19,” CTV News, May 21, 2020, https://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/shopify-says-most-employees-will-permanently-work-remotely-following-covid-19- 1.4948371#:~:text=Shopify%20says%20most%20employees%20will%20permanently%20work%20rem otely%20following%20COVID%2D19,-Josh%20Pringle%20Digital&text=Shopify%20says%20offices%20 will%20not,CTV's%20Tyler%20Fleming.&text=OTTAWA%20%2D%2D%20Shopify's%205%2C000%20employees,COVID%2D19%20restrictions%20are%20lifted; Lee Berthiaume, “Feds looking at permanent remote work, office needs after COVID-19,” CTV News, June 22, 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/feds-looking-at-permanent-remote-work-office-needs-after-covid-19-1.4994266

  7. Mark Gollom, “4-day workweek with fewer hours, same pay could become a reality in some workplaces post-COVID 19,” CBC News, June 22, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/four-day-work-week-covid-19-1.5617481

  8. Mark Gollom, June 22, 2020

  9. Mark Gollom, June 22, 2020

  10. Mark Gollom, June 22, 2020

  11. Mark Gollom, June 22, 2020

  12. Richard Eisenberg, “The 4-Day Workweek: Has the Time Come?” Forbes, February 6, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2020/02/06/the-4-day-workweek-has-its-time-come/?sh=22bc80 e551d0; Shira Feder, “ What a 4-day workweek could do to your brain and body,” Insider, January 8, 2020, https://www.insider.com/how-4-day-workweek-could-benefit-your-brain-body

  13. Yuki Noguchi, “Enjoy The Extra Day Off! More Bosses Give 4-Day Workweek A Try,” NPR, February 21, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/02/21/807133509/enjoy-the-extra-day-off-more-bosses-give-4-day-workweek-a try

  14. Yuki Noguchi, February 21, 2020

  15. Mike Drolet, June 26, 2020

  16. Mike Drolet, June 26, 2020

  17. Z. Deng, R. Morissette, & D. Messacar, “Running the Economy Remotely: Potential for Working from Home During and After COVID-19,” Statistics Canada, May 28, 2020, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2020001/article/00026-eng.htm

  18. Mark Gollom, June 22, 2020

  19. Mark Gollom, June 22, 2020

  20. Mark Gollom, June 22, 2020

  21. Bill Chappell, November 4, 2019

  22. Richard Eisenberg, February 6, 2020

  23. Richard Eisenberg, February 6, 2020

  24. Charlotte Graham-McLay, “A 4-Day Workweek? A Test Run Shows a Surprising Result,” The New York TImes, July 19, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/19/world/asia/four-day-workweek-new-zealand.html; Lisa Eadicicco, “Microsoft experimented with a 4-day workweek, and productivity jumped by 40%,” Business Insider, November 4, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-4-day-work-week-boosts-productivity-2019-11

  25. Bill Chappell, November 4, 2019

  26. Yuki Noguchi, February 21, 2020

  27. Richard Eisenberg, February 6, 2020; Liza Eadicicco, November 4, 2019

  28. Richard Eisenberg, February 6, 2020; Z. Deng, R. Morissette, & D. Messacar, May 28, 2020

  29. Who Invented the Weekend?” BBC, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zf22kmn?fbclid=IwAR3_33b0WFhc53ytpevfm5xZFLoZce5driZDZBl5rQm_AkzybOo2Y7KL4UU