Exploring Productivity and ECOH’s 4-Day Week

| June 2023

Over the last several years, there has been a growing trend towards the 4-Day Work Week. There have been multiple trials run in several countries across the globe and the results are overwhelmingly positive. And so, at the leading edge of the 4-Day Week in the Environmental Consulting Industry in Ontario, ECOH has joined the global trend and is currently engaged in a trial of our own. We are continually evolving our processes, increasing efficiency and, above all, maintaining our commitment to technical excellence, tailored solutions, and rapid response times for our clients’ environmental, health and safety challenges. But why? And how can productivity increase in less time?

What Does the Research Say?

Research shows that most workers are only truly productive for a few hours each day. This doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t working, just that they are not being as productive as they could be and possibly not doing the “right” work. And isn’t productivity one of the key factors that makes an organization successful? Based on this research, it was theorized that, in exchange for improved focus and productivity increases of 20%, workers would be “gifted” one day off per week. The day off would allow workers to re-energize and be more motivated and effective when they are at work. After all, when we ask people to do more without anything in exchange, it can be stressful and demoralizing which ultimately leads to burnout, lost productivity and diminishing returns.

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This may seem counter-productive, but studies of 4-Day Week trials showed improvements across all metrics. A recent study (February 2023) of 61 companies (2,900 workers) running a 4-Day Week trial in the U.K. found the following results:

  • 39% of employees were less stressed after the trial.
  • 71% of participants reported reduced levels of burnout.
  • 54% found it easier to balance work and household chores.
  • 60% found it easier to combine paid work with care responsibilities.
  • 62% found it easier to combine work with social life.
  • Companies’ revenue was generally stable with an average increase of 1.4%.
  • Staff leaving the companies decreased by 57% over the trial period.
  • The trial was deemed to be a success: 92% of the companies are continuing the 4-Day week.

The 4-Day Week Formula

The 4-Day Week is not the same as a compressed work week where workers work longer days to have one day off. In essence, the formula is 100% of the pay, 80% of the time, and 100% of the “output”. Think about all the ways time can be lost, used ineffectively or outright wasted. Increasing productivity seems like a simple thing to do if you put your mind to it, but it’s not always easy. And before everyone jumps up and exclaims “but I’m already working as hard as I can!”, that may be correct, but are you doing the things that actually need to be done and that are aligned with the success of your organization?

Removing Barriers to Increasing Productivity

In general, companies can waste a lot of time in internal meetings that are either unproductive or unnecessary. One of my former colleagues had a coffee mug that I loved. It said: “I just survived a meeting that should have been a phone call.” Truer words have never been written. And although everyone has a role to play in achieving efficiency, systems are often the cause of significant “unnecessary and/or extra” work. Focusing on systems, more so than on people, has a greater impact on efficiency. Many of our systems, although created in an attempt to make things “better”, can get in the way of efficiency and lead to little or no real benefit. For example, some tracking systems take a fair bit of time and regular data entry to keep up to date, but if we don’t ever use that information, is it worth it? That is an example of an organization getting in its own way of being productive, when in fact they should be removing barriers to success. Not all work is worth the time it takes to do it. This is where time can be saved in almost every organization.

Good time-saving examples are presented in Paul Holbrook’s book Diary Detox. Holbrook clearly outlines how you can look at daily tasks in your calendar (called ‘diary’ in the UK!) and decide what you should and should not be doing, and set boundaries to avoid the ‘should not be doing’ tasks. As well as task ‘culling’, figure out how much time you should generally be spending on each category of work based on your role in an organization. With respect to meetings, he discusses thinking about what would happen if a particular meeting was cancelled and never rescheduled. If the answer is “nothing”, then that meeting would not be a productive use of anyone’s time.

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Increasing Interaction Efficiencies: ECOH’s Communication Guideline

ECOH is engaging in a series of internal surveys throughout the 4-Day Week trial. One piece of feedback that is being actioned is a Communication Guideline. This is a straightforward document outlining best practice for the various communication mediums we use to engage with our colleagues and clients. This simple tool is one example of how ECOH is committed to increasing efficiency through our 4-Day Week trial, and there will be many more to come. Below is an excerpt from this guideline for something as elementary as knowing when to schedule a meeting (vs. back-and-forth emails or messages). Sometimes these reminders are all we need to kick-start more efficient habits.

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Will the 4-Day Week Impact ECOH’s Clients?

There may be concerns that by reducing the number of hours or days worked that clients would not be appropriately served. Of course, in any service industry there needs to be flexibility, and sometimes we just need to do some overtime. This won’t change. ECOH is a 24/7 consulting service, and we’ll still be here when our clients need us to be. In fact, studies show increased productivity during work hours, so some deliverables may actually be completed faster! We’re still in our trial period, so time will tell, but internal employee surveys and discussions with our clients indicate the 4-Day Week at ECOH is going very well so far.

The 4-Day Week is the future of work. The ECOH team is committed to making this trial a success for our clients and our people. Have suggestions, comments, or questions? Reach out to us at info@ecoh.ca. We’d love to hear from you!

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