City of Saint John adopts a 4-day work week

Saint John's development offices and customer service lines will be open for one and a half hours longer from Monday to Thursday, and closed on Friday. (CBC - image credit)
Saint John's development offices and customer service lines will be open for one and a half hours longer from Monday to Thursday, and closed on Friday. (CBC - image credit)

Saint John city council has unanimously approved a four-day week for most city employees.

Starting Oct. 17, the majority of employees will be working longer days from Monday to Thursday. The city approved a year-long trial, and will evaluate whether to continue the program later in 2023.

In a presentation to city council Monday night, John Collin, the city manager, said employees will work the same number of hours in a work week, and have the same salary, but have to come into work for fewer days. He said this new schedule will extend morning and evening hours for the city's customer service centre and development office.

"The intent, in short, is to take advantage of the known benefits of [there] being fewer days at work," he told councillors.

The city's service centre is currently open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Starting Oct. 17, the new hours will be Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

After-hours customer service and dispatch will be available for emergencies, he said.

Collin said seven-hour workers will work 8.75 hours, eight-hour workers will work 10 hours and 8.5-hour workers will work 10.5 hours.

'Stress levels went down'

Collin said the city looked at several case studies, most in private industry. Those include companies in Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, and New Zealand.

City of Saint John
City of Saint John

He said the case study from New Zealand showed that reducing the number of days at work had compelling results.

"Stress levels went down, work-life balance improved, and productivity remained consistent, or in some cases, improved," he said.

He said this will benefit the mental health and wellbeing of employees, which in turn benefits the employer by reducing absences and improving teamwork, because "everyone feels good about being at work."

Collin said the city has been struggling to recruit urban planners and IT professionals, for example, and he hopes this change will help attract talent.

"It's progressive, it's evidence based, and therefore we believe we should take advantage of the opportunity," he said.

Preparing for possible issues

He said despite possible benefits there are still things the city must watch out for during the trial period.

The city must be clear about work expectations, so people should not be working on their days off, for example, because they're working longer days. Planning will also be important to make sure there are enough workers each day.

He said anecdotally this change helps parents to spend more quality time with their children, but the longer work day could be more difficult for single parents or caregivers.

He said for employees who are not able to make the longer days work, they can choose to stay on the five-day schedule.

According to a survey by global consulting firm Robert Half, 66 per cent of surveyed employees were in favour of a four-day work week, Collin said.

He said for a company to do well, it must prioritize its employees.

"Companies that survived for less than 20 years had profit and customer service as their first two priorities and employees as their third priority," he said. "They simply did not survive," he said.

Business as usual for some services

The City of Saint John has more than 800 employees.

Collin said 39 per cent of city employees are shift workers and already on some sort of compressed schedule, such as firefighters and parks employees during the summer months. This change would not apply to them, he said.

It would apply to most of the rest with exceptions of services in public works, the City Market, recreation centres, transit, parking enforcement, Saint John Water and public safety services.

Collin did not provide a final tally of how many employees will be working four days a week.

Saint John is not the first municipality in New Brunswick to test out this schedule. Sackville, Riverview and Quispamsis all piloted the new schedule.