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Time trial: Ontario township’s four day work week pilot going smoothly

Town's recruitment page sees explosion in visits as word spreads about shortened work week


Zorra Township in Ontario is two months into a four-day work week pilot project and “so far, so good,” municipal officials say.

“Anecdotally so far, staff feel like their work week is more focused and productive,” Zorra Mayor Marcus Ryan said. “But time will tell, for sure.”

The 13 staff affected by the project have been split into two shifts, with one team working Monday to Thursday, the other Tuesday to Friday. All staff work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Beyond some scheduling headaches for meetings — there are only three days in the week now where all staff are available — work has continued without any hiccups, Ryan said.

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They’re also interested to see if staff take fewer sick days or use less flex time, by booking appointments on days off, for example.

On days when fewer people are in the office, Mondays and Fridays, Ryan said it can be easier to “churn through more work” with fewer interruptions.

Adapting to certain people being unavailable on those same days has been the biggest challenge, he said.

Work-life balance improved

One major positive of the shorter week is improved work-life balance for staff, Ryan said.

“Staff are loving it,” he said. “They all have three-day weekends. They all have the flexibility to live their lives.”

The compressed work week idea came up in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when the workforce was split into smaller teams.

The pilot project launched Sept. 1 and runs until April 30 of next year.

Zorra’s top administrator said the four-day work week, resulting in longer operating hours at municipal offices, has been a boon for the public.

“We’ve had a good uptake from the public,” said Don MacLeod. “It seems to really help people out in coming to the office.”

MacLeod said they’ve seen more of Zorra’s 8,100 residents use a new 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. timeslot.

Early mornings, around 8:30 a.m., have also been popular among contractors looking to coordinate with municipal officials, he said.

Easier recruitment?

Since the switch took effect, there’s also been a growing interest in working for the township.

MacLeod said the recruitment page on the municipal website typically would see about 25 hits a month. That’s ballooned to well over 700.

A team of public administration students at Western University will monitor the pilot project and report to Zorra council when it ends.

Mayor Ryan said just because the typical five-day work week is the norm doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best system.

“Frequently when you’re measuring things, you’re measuring against what you’re familiar with,” he said. “Why is a Monday to Friday, 40-hour work week the measure?”

Ryan credits staff flexibility for the smooth shift to the four-day week and hopes some novel ways of working come out of the switch.

“It’s possible that staff will innovate and work differently,” he said. “It probably will be more productive and efficient and better.”