Advocating for a 4-day workweek (Editor’s notes)

Shorter week saves the environment and money
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/15/2008

Everybody loves a three-day weekend. The May long weekend. The August long weekend. And yes, even the dreaded Labour Day weekend — the marker of the end of the all-too-short Canadian summer.

Every employee would agree there should be more. Employers, though, might not be too keen on the idea of expanding the number of three-day weekends, as evidenced by the uproar in Ontario and Manitoba when Family Day and Louis Riel Day made their respective debuts in February.

But there’s something about the four-day workweek that seems, well, just so darn efficient. Why do something in five days when you can get it done in four?

Here’s a look at a few reasons why it might be time for employers to embrace the concept of a year-round, four-day workweek.

It’s environmentally friendly.

Green is all the rage, among employers and workers alike, and cutting the workweek by one day would have a significant impact on greenhouse gases.

Canadians would use less fuel driving to work. How much less? Well, one-fifth less would be the easy math. For the more complicated stuff, let’s look at numbers from Statistics Canada. According to the 2006 Census, 10.6 million of us drive to work, and the average commuting distance is 7.6 kilometres. So the average Canadian commutes 15.2 kilometres a day, to and from work.

That means chopping one day off the workweek would translate to about 161.1 million fewer kilometres driven each week, or nearly 8.4 billion fewer kilometres per year.

What does that translate into in terms of fuel consumption? For the sake of this argument, let’s assume every Canadian is driving a 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. The Malibu uses 11.5 litres of gas for every 100 kilometres it travels in the city.

That means, by eliminating one work day, Canadians will use about 966 million fewer litres of gas per year going to work. Since a barrel of oil makes about 75 litres of gasoline, that means Canada will need about 13.2 million fewer barrels of oil per year by moving to a four-day workweek.

There would also be less wear and tear on roads, meaning they would have to be repaved and replaced less frequently — something cash-strapped municipalities would love. There would also be less crowding on public transit in cities, meaning the number of buses could potentially be reduced.

It reduces employee stress.

Commutes are stressful. But imagine if there was one-fifth less traffic during rush hour? Assuming employers staggered the day workers get off, that would be a reality.

Having three days off every week will also give workers more time to recharge. They’ll be more productive during their time at work.

It reduces absenteesim.

Workers won’t need to schedule time off work for things like doctor’s appointments, since they’ll have an additional day to take care of those kinds of things. Having a shorter workweek should also make employees less inclined to play hooky.

It saves employees money.

Not only will workers spend less money on gas, and wear and tear on their vehicles, but there will be additional cost-savings.

Workers with young children will save money on daycare. Employees will need to buy less clothing for work, since the workweek is shorter.

It saves employers money.

A shorter workweek should reduce turnover. No matter how one measures it, turnover is costly. A shorter workweek would be a prized benefit, likely to land organizations on many a top employer list.

A short week might not work for every organization. But most employers should be able to pull it off by getting a little creative. Obviously, most businesses can’t be open only four days a week. But the extra day off can be staggered among the workforce to ensure there is always staff available.

And a shorter workweek doesn’t necessarily have to mean a longer work day — that would likely erode the stress benefits. The 32-hour workweek (four days a week, eight hours a day) could become the new norm. After all, the five-day workweek was just an arbitrary decision. Who’s to say it’s the best model?

There are, of course, some pretty major hurdles to making it a reality. Salaried workers wouldn’t want to take a pay cut. And maintaining a worker’s current five-day workweek pay would be equivalent to a 20 per cent wage hike. That’s far beyond the increases of any salary budget I’ve ever heard of. Hourly workers won’t want to take the hit in their pocketbooks either.

But I’m sure someone out there can do the math and come up with a positive return on investment for a shorter workweek without slashing employees’ pay. I just couldn’t find that magic button on my calculator.

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