A majority of Canadians think a four-day work week is a good idea, one that is gaining traction in popular opinion as the coronavirus pandemic forces employers and workers to adapt, according to a new study from the Angus Reid Institute.
Overall, 53 per cent of Canadians supported the idea of making a 30-hour work week standard, compared with 47 per cent who were in favour in 2018, according to the study.
Canadians at all income levels were more receptive than in the past, the study found. The highest level of support came among those with the lowest level of household income, while fewer than half of those with household incomes above $150,000 per year — 47 per cent — supported the idea.
Support was higher than average among those receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit during pandemic-related workplace shutdowns, at 58 per cent.
“Canadian working lives have been altered in ways unimagined by most at the beginning of 2020,” the polling firm said, noting that the shorter work week has been discussed as a way to reduce unemployment by spreading the amount of work among more employees.
Prompted by changes made to accommodate employees during the pandemic, a municipality in Nova Scotia is running a nine-month pilot project to test the feasibility of a shorter week, with flexibility to work some of those days at home.
The pandemic has increased traction for the idea in other countries as well, Angus Reid noted.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, for example, has suggested that a four-day work week could help the economy by providing flexible work arrangements and a boost to domestic tourism while the country’s borders remained closed to many international visitors.
Contrary to what might be expected, studies that have looked at shortened work weeks have found increased productivity as well as improved “work life balance,” Angus Reid said. Working longer hours has been shown to reduce hourly efficiency due to fatigue, and it has also been suggested that the stress of long hours reduces productivity.
But critics say lines would be blurred between full-time and part-time employees, and they have concerns about the impact on professions that require frequent overtime hours, such as in the medical field, the study said.
Mitch Frazer, a partner and chair of the pensions and employment practice at Torys LLP in Toronto, said a shortened work week is a “great idea” for many but not all businesses.
“It would be great way to attract talent (and) many employees could arguably be more productive in a compressed week,” he said.
“On the flip side, some companies need their employees to be responsive at least five days a week,’ he added.
The Angus Reid study released Friday showed some support for the idea of a shortened work week across Canada, though it varied from region to region. At least four out of 10 in each region support the idea, rising to 60 per cent in Quebec. Meanwhile, the strongest opposition comes from Alberta, where 34 per cent say shortening the work week “would be a bad idea.”
The concept of shorter work weeks is particularly popular among younger Canadians, with six out of 10 between the ages of 18 and 34 saying it would be a good idea, according to the Angus Reid study.
Meanwhile, the idea of a four-day work week faced the most opposition from Conservative voters in Canada, with 40 per cent of this group likely to say it is an ill-conceived idea. Two-thirds of those who have voted Liberal or NDP in the past, on the other hand, support the idea of a shorter work week.