Published:April 8, 2022
The town of Quispamsis is set to test out a four-day work week for municipal staff in a six-month pilot project.
Putting aside the traditional Monday to Friday is hoped to improve work-life balance and ease burnout – facets hit hard, acting CAO Aaron Kennedy says, by the continuing stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climbing cost of living.
“It’s a change, there’s no question about that,” he says. “But we’re sort of asking people to give it the old college try and see if it works for them.”
Starting May 2, staff at town hall will be split into two teams – flipping every four weeks between working Monday-to-Thursday and Tuesday-to-Friday.
An hour will be tacked on to the beginning and end of each day to keep hours worked the same – meaning town hall will actually be open more than it is now, with staff working 7:30 a.m to 5:30 p.m.
“People hear four-day work week and think we’re shutting down municipal services one day a week when it’s quite the contrary,” says Kennedy.
“We’re actually enhancing our municipal services because we’re going to be open longer.”
He says the town didn’t consult mental health staff when moving to enact the pilot but did consult the staff that would be affected.
Most, like finance clerk Andrea Bennett, say it’s worth a shot.
“I thought it was a great idea, really,” she says.
She says it will mean more family time through the summer.
“My daughter’s actually going away to university next year so it’ll be nice to have that extra day with her through the week, before she heads off,” Bennett says.
Quispamsis is the second municipality in New Brunswick to test out a shorter work week for staff – Sackville announcing in March it would run a similar pilot through September.
Kennedy says Quispamsis will run it through Thanksgiving.
There’s also been conversation about the model around council chambers in Sussex, Hampton – even Moncton and Saint John.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Katy Kamkar says the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that the old ways of working can be shaken up with success.
“It’s been like this for decades now,” she says of the Monday-to-Friday work week, “but being on a balance is increasingly more important.”
Kamkar says similar pilots testing a scaled-back work week across Canada and internationally have shown benefits in unexpected areas.
Some tests, she says, have shown fewer sick days used, fewer interpersonal conflicts and enhanced productivity.
“It helps to improve our overall quality of life,” says Kamkar.
She says still more tests will have to be done before we see the four-day work week spread to other settings – with the potential for it not to fit with some careers at all.
“Some occupations, yes, might benefit from it from a health point of view. Others … there might be other issues to consider,” Kamkar says.
Kennedy says Quispamsis has already identified potential snags that could keep this from becoming permanent.
Winter weather, for instance, and not adhering to the businesses hours posted on the door of town hall.
He says the unions representing waste management and municipal workers like plow operators are discussing joining in – but the likely outcome will be a seasonal model starting each spring and ending in the fall.
This pilot will end on Oct. 14.