“Beginning of a trend”: more Ontario municipalities are interested in the 4-day work week

A growing number of rural municipalities in Ontario are expressing interest in implementing a four-day work week, according to a group that supports local governments, as another community in the province begins offering the model to staff.

The executive director of the Association of Municipal Administrators of Ontario said at least seven municipalities are now offering staff the option of working a four-day week, with Algonquin Highlands being the latest to implement it.

“This may be the start of a trend,” Scott Vokey said in a phone interview. “There seems to be more people kicking the tyres, considering that now.”

Interest in the model grew to the point that the association decided to hold a workshop in May for city managers to learn more about the four-day work week, he said. .

Rural governments, like businesses, began exploring the idea after the COVID-19 pandemic forced changes to how city services were run, Vokey said.

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The Township of Zorra, a rural municipality on the northwest corner of Oxford County in southwestern Ontario, began scheduling staff to work four days a week ago more than a year. Several other rural municipalities in southern Ontario have since followed suit.

Vokey said he knows of municipalities in Nova Scotia and Alberta that have also made similar changes.

The Association of Municipal Administrators of Ontario said that workers in rural municipalities are more likely to adapt to the four-day work week compared to large cities, such as Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, for a variety of reasons, including the number of employees they have.

“One is just the logistics of a smaller workforce being more nimble and being like a lab where you can test things,” Vokey said.

“Another factor is that it is difficult for small rural communities to attract good talent and they are always looking for new and innovative ways to win this battle.”

The mayor of Algonquin Highlands – who permanently established a four-day working week this week – said the pandemic had transformed the way people work and it had given her government the idea to explore new schedules for staff in the cottage community, which is surrounded by lakes and forests.

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“When people were working from home, we found that allowing people some flexibility in their shifts during that time worked pretty well,” Liz Danielsen said.

“As the pandemic started to calm down a bit, we thought about giving the compressed work week a trial period.”

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The municipality has been running a trial of the four-day workweek for the past six months, with two shifts working different schedules. One group clocked Monday through Thursday while the others worked Tuesday through Friday. Everyone worked an extra hour each day and breaks were reduced to 30 minutes.

“In other words, the office was open five extra hours a week and it was working really, really well,” Danielsen said.

She added that the schedule is optional and if workers choose to work Monday to Friday during regular hours, the municipality can accommodate that as well.

“The general vibe in the office is absolutely better,” she said. “There is nothing better than having a happy staff.”

John Trougakos, professor of management at the University of Toronto, said changing work schedules is part of a global trend that has gained momentum during the pandemic.

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“We’ve seen it in Iceland, we’ve seen it in some places in the UK, we’ve seen it in some places in the US,” he said.

Studies have indicated that the four-day week allows employees to have a better work-life balance, such as having more time for hobbies and family, which reduces stress and burnout.

“From an organizational perspective, this leads to greater employee satisfaction and retention and is a recruitment benefit for a number of organizations implementing this,” Trougakos said.

“We also see from an organizational perspective that there is an increase in productivity and that makes sense if employees are more engaged, more satisfied and less stressed.”

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The professor added that there are minor differences between a company and a municipality or government making the change.

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“The level of scrutiny or the level of external criticism may be different for a government,” he said.

“Governments must obviously always be mindful of how they are perceived by taxpayers…that whatever model they choose to put in place meets the needs of the community and the people they are meant to serve. .”

But if government workers are more productive, as studies suggest, Trougakos said that shouldn’t affect services.

Danielsen said that’s exactly what happened in his municipality. There has been “absolutely no impact on services,” she said, noting that services have actually improved.

“Happy employees dramatically improve productivity,” she said. “It’s a good thing for all of us.”

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