EcoSuperior’s new schedule helps employees feel ‘less rushed, less stressed’by Sabrina Missere, WSN Health and Safety Specialist
|EcoSuperior staff in Thunder Bay, Ont., successfully piloted a four-day work week and enjoy the resulting improved mental health.|
Amid a global pandemic, one Thunder Bay workplace used it as an opportunity to adapt to the changing times. Haley Gilles, Health and Safety Representative at EcoSuperior, was always inspired by the idea of a four-day work week, after hearing of the concept more than a decade ago.
“I read a newspaper article where David Suzuki spoke about how his Foundation had been working a four-day work week and was encouraging others to follow suit," says Gilles.
"I then read some online research and news articles from around the globe, plus a book, and then pitched this concept to our Board of Directors.” EcoSuperior is a non-profit organization that offers environmental programs and services. “It also seemed perfect as it feels aligned with our mission--building a healthy future for people and the planet,” adds Gilles
Executive Director Susan Hamel thought it was an opportune time to review their systems, how they work, and where they work, with consideration for the staff’s health and well-being.
Learning from other companies and organizations around the world, the firm decided to conduct a trial to see if it could work for their organization.
The company looked at details like the impact on human resources, how to structure the work week, the number of hours worked, and the options for staff.
Thinking about what ‘success’ would look like for the pilot, being mindful of the ‘why’ behind what they were doing, and adapting to condense work into four days were some of the challenges the firm had top of mind. They also had to figure out how it would affect policies, pay, benefits, and community partners.
A four-month trial began in February 2021 and was extended to six months. Because their work changes with the seasons, they wanted to continue the trial to get a better idea of the effect over the course of the seasons. Lakehead University was consulted to study the impact of the shift. They were interested in learning how the shift to a four-day work week could affect individuals on a psychological level.
Despite the challenges, a four-day work week became permanent at their workplace. What used to be a normal 35-hour work week has shifted to a 32-hour flexible, or ‘flex’ week for EcoSuperior staff. Employees get to decide how they make up their hours Monday through Friday. Staff continues to be paid the same as when they worked a 35-hour week.
Ashley Priem, Program Director at EcoSuperior, described this change as making them feel valued, relaxed, focused, and motivated. In the short term, Priem said “I had more time to run errands and manage my home life. I felt less rushed and stressed out trying to fit everything into the week.”
She added that “the long-term effect is that I have more time to exercise which has improved my mental health and I am more patient and fun to be around. I have more time for hobbies and activities, improving my quality of life, and I feel more rested when I return to work.”
The firm has been inundated with requests locally and beyond, from doctors, writers, and journalists wanting to learn more about their reasons, process, and decision to make this change. “It’s not a cost-saving measure, it’s actually what I call a value-added measure,” says Hamel.
As the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) Representative, Gilles hears staff often express how excited they are to have more time to spend with family and friends, as well as more time to accomplish tasks and do things they enjoy with the extra ‘weekend’ day.
“Personally, I am very appreciative of the ‘flex’ type work week that we have here at EcoSuperior. Knowing that I can flex my week when needed, allows me a healthy work-life balance.” Gilles adds that since the change, she feels supported, present, and refreshed.
When asked what advice she had for other employers who are considering a four-day work week, Gilles offers a few ideas:
- Realize there is NO one-size-fits-all for all workplaces, organizations, companies, or staff teams
- Consider ‘why’ you are doing it (state intentions, be clear with yourselves and others – for the organization, the employees, the community, and even, the planet)
- Pilot the four-day work week first, (before full implementation) – I recommend for at least four to six months, with explicit measurables about what ‘success’ will or will not look like. It could even be a full 12 months to experience all four seasons
- Include discussion, sharing, and workshop sessions with the staff team prior to and during to pilot, where staff can learn, and share how to increase efficiency in the workday or workweek; for example, time management, meeting efficiencies, prioritization, and focus time with notifications turned off, etc.)
- It should not be considered a cost-saving idea
- Keep some element of ‘choice’ or ‘flexibility’ – as important as a condensed workweek. For example, the same workday or workweek schedule may not work in the same way for a single parent as it may work for a young employee who does not have caregiver responsibilities
- Read and inform yourself from examples, stories, and research from approaches and successes from around the world! For example, start with watching this recent 12-minute Ted Talk.
Sabrina Missere is a Health and Safety Specialist at Workplace Safety North based out of Thunder Bay and provides health and safety services to WSN clients throughout the northwest region. Sabrina holds an Honours Bachelor of Science Degree in Kinesiology from Lakehead University along with her Occupational Health and Safety Certificate from Ryerson University. For more information, contact Sabrina.
Workplace mental health free resources