Scary Mondays or Magical Mondays? Tight labor market calls for 4-day work weeks
Instead of « Scary Mondays, » employees of mobile game developer Square Enix Montreal have « Magic Mondays. »
The company instituted a four-day work week out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the policy remains to help the growing company retain workers in a competitive job market.
« It started a year and a half ago and it was meant to help employees deal with stress: working from home, homeschooling, having to deal with all that work-life balance in this new situation of work from home », Nathalie Gauthier, executive producer at Square Enix, tells Global News.
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“Magic Mondays” give employees a Monday off, with no reduction in pay. On Mondays, when they are on time, policy dictates that all meetings be kept to a minimum to encourage maximum productivity with limited distractions.
“People love it so much, so we decided to make it permanent,” says Gauthier. « It’s definitely a bonus in terms of talent retention and acquisition. »
Square Enix has grown from 50 to 150 employees in three years. Gauthier attributes this specific advantage.
“It’s also a way to put your money where your mouth is. As a company, we always say we put employees first and this is a very concrete step to being able to do that,” she said.
Canada’s tight labor market has created a war for talent, and proponents of the four-day work week, from private businesses to municipalities and politicians, say it’s an important tool for retaining and attracting workers. Companies across a wide range of industries are scrambling to hire and retain employees amid record unemployment and an unprecedented number of vacancies. The high burnout rates spurred by the pandemic and the big overhaul are also prompting many to leave their current roles or the workforce altogether.
It follows a global trend towards a shortened or compressed working week which accelerated this month as 3,300 workers from 70 companies across the UK embarked on a pilot project to test working weeks four-day work for six months. Notably, this trial, considered the largest of its kind in the world, does not involve a pay cut and includes a variety of sectors, including retail, software and financial services.
Township of Zorra Permanently Implements 4-Day Work Week Following Successful Pilot Project
Zorra’s success story
The four-day workweek was unanimously approved by the council of the township of Zorra in southwestern Ontario at the end of 2021, following the success of its eight-month pilot project . Researchers from Western and York Universities monitored the project and found that, similar to large-scale trials in Iceland between 2015 and 2019, productivity remained the same or higher and satisfaction rates among workers and the customers they served were high.
At the time, Joseph Lyons, professor of political science and director of Western University’s local government program, said « a potential lesson here is that organizations with a good culture and strong leadership are more likely to be innovative ».
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The township study east of London, Ontario, was one of the largest trials of the four-day work week in the public sector in Canada. They were 30 employees of the municipality of Zorra who worked 10 hours a day either from Monday to Thursday or from Tuesday to Friday.
Don MacLeod, Zorra’s chief administrative officer, said he continues to field « weekly » calls about the project from municipalities and private companies from British Columbia to Ontario.
Weapon in the talent war
“That extra day just means a world of difference. We found a more relaxed atmosphere at work. People seem to be more engaged and it seems our workforce is happier,” he said.
MacLeod said the compressed workweek has been key to attracting and retaining top managers and junior employees.
“We now hear about the difficulty of recruiting seniors. We felt it was one more tool in our toolbox to recruit but also retain key staff,” he said.
« We now have younger staff members who said they wouldn’t go anywhere else without a four-day working week. »
MacLeod said on his Mondays off he would usually take his elderly father to doctor’s appointments, run errands, play golf in the summer or enjoy an extra day of downtime.
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Compressed work weeks aren’t for everyone
In the run-up to this year’s Ontario election, two major parties, the NDP and the Liberals, have tabled four-day work weeks as part of their election promises. Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford was re-elected and his position is that programming is best left to the private sector.
Macleod admits that compressed work weeks are not suitable for all sectors, for all types of employees. Zorra’s four-day workweek mode does not apply to all departments year-round. Public Works staff work a nine-day schedule, every other Friday, from April through October through the spring, summer and fall. But when there might be snow to clear, they return to a regular schedule for five months.
« We found that we weren’t able to make it one size, but fit every department, » he said.
Flexibility is key, as is common sense.
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Every weekend is a long weekend
According to a recent survey of Square Enix Montreal employees, most use the extra day every two weeks to spread races over three days rather than just Saturday and Sunday. But others tell the company it’s been invaluable from a mental health and wellbeing perspective, to unwind.
“Play video games, do DIY projects,” Gauthier said. « It’s very, very much appreciated. »
She said an important policy implemented to ensure the continued success of Magic Mondays is to adjust production schedules to reflect the compressed work week. This helped ease the burden of a full-time production schedule for employees.
« It would have been counterproductive to force employees to compensate in terms of production, » Gauthier said.
She knows firsthand how much of a game changer a four-day workweek can be, especially for working parents who have been disproportionately impacted during the COVID-19 shutdowns.
“As a mother of three, it has definitely helped me with work-life balance. It gives me an extra day to do things for my family and spend time with my daughters,” he said. she declared.
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