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4-day work week: our experience so far

4-day work week: our experience so far

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Since we launched our 4-day work week pilot in January 2023, we have been contacted by numerous organizations seeking advice and guidance on how to make it a reality for their own organizations, or determine if it is right for them. Close to 150 individuals attended a special webinar we organized on this topic in June 2023. We also have been invited to speak about our experience at conferences and panel discussions. There is no denying that the 4-day work week has gained momentum in the past year or so. There are unique challenges, however, when implementing innovative initiatives in the nonprofit sector. There is often resistance to change, and concerns about reactions from stakeholders - both understandable. We are accountable to the people we serve, to our partners, and to our funders. 

At Imagine Canada, it took us close to a year to prepare for the pilot. We wanted to make sure that the decision to enter into this pilot program would not disrupt our services, affect the quality of our work, or dilute our impact. 

Now over ten months in, we feel it is time to provide an honest account of our experience so far. We’ll start with the good. Allowing employees to enjoy an additional day off has undeniably improved staff morale and well-being. We’ve measured this through sets of surveys: our internal employee pulse survey, as well as a survey we participated in with the research group Four Day Week Global. Overall, employees tell us how much they appreciate the new schedule. This extra day is allowing us to unlock our human potential - for example, one staff member has decided to pursue a master’s degree; another said they have more time to dedicate to their faith; others are volunteering. Some of our employees are parents, or care for a family member. This extra day allows them to do chores, run errands, book appointments, and more on Fridays so they can spend quality time with their family during the weekend. It is also an opportunity to just rest and recuperate, and come back fully recharged on Monday. Yes, sometimes, some of our staff do put in a few hours on Friday, but it is never imposed. While we encourage everyone to fully disconnect, staff members have the flexibility to manage their time and schedule. Overall, the vast majority of staff have fully embraced the 4-day work week.

Now, I’m sure everyone is curious to know: are we as productive as before, as studies suggest? Through 48 different well-being but also performance metrics, we have collected data on productivity and workload. Our metrics so far show that overall productivity has remained consistent, having slightly risen in some areas and slightly declined in others. 

For sake of transparency, we're sharing some of the metrics that we have measured:

  • A 66% increase in overall mental, physical and emotional health of Imagine Canada staff 
  • A 105% increase in satisfaction related to work/life balance
  • Sick days have been reduced by 40% 
  • Staff retention rate is currently 100% 
  • We will not achieve our financial goals for 2023. Most factors related to revenue shortfalls are not attributable to the 4DWW 
  • The number of policy briefs, op-eds or knowledge mobilization products created to advance active policy campaigns has increased 86% 
  • Membership has increased by 20% 
  • Number of unique visitors to was down by 12%

Overall, our confidence in our ability to deliver on this year's operating plan is actually higher than last year at the same time. It is important to note however one of our goals going into the pilot was to adjust workload. Before the trial, we consistently planned more output than our capacity actually allowed. This may still feel true at times, but we have made considerable, intentional efforts to have more realistic expectations. The biggest exercise to achieve this was prioritizing, and it is still a work in progress. We spend our time where it counts the most and has the most impact. In addition, we’ve reduced the number of internal meetings we have every week; for example, many weekly meetings are now bi-weekly. Every Monday afternoon is ‘meetingless’ to allow employees to focus on deeper work. Our goal was always to find the right balance. And we’re getting there. 

One undeniable advantage of the 4-day work week is that it helps to retain and attract talent. No employee has left the organization since we started the pilot, and since we launched the trial. Candidates that we have interviewed for new roles since launching the trial have mentioned the 4-day work week as being a major benefit of working at Imagine Canada. In addition, the number of sick days taken by staff members this year has decreased by forty percent. 

Overall, it’s been very positive. But in the spirit of transparency, we also want to be honest. Although all indicators point to a positive experience and don’t signal a negative effect on our impact, the 4-day work week model is not universally accepted as a work practice. For us at Imagine, this translated into a reduced opportunity related to some anticipated funding as this new practice wasn't in alignment with the vision of a particular funding prospect.

We are grateful that further discussions with the funder may lead to a positive outcome. But if we have one tip for organizations that may find themselves in a similar situation, it’s the importance of open communication with funders, and of measuring the impact of the 4-day work week: track various metrics that funders will understand, and be transparent about both the findings - positive or not. 

We acknowledge how privileged we are to be in a position to do this trial. We know that it is not possible for all organizations, for various reasons. One of the main reasons is the lack of resources caused by the scarcity of funding. So our hope is for funders to support organizations that are trying to innovate to keep their employees and stay competitive in a tight job market, in a sector where resources are so limited.

The 4-day work week can be a life changer for your employees and your organization. But know that it can come with certain risks. Thankfully, the majority of our partners and funders are very supportive and understand what we are trying to achieve with the 4-day work week. Even more important, they trust us to know how to best manage our organization. We are grateful for their support, and for the support so many in the sector have expressed. 

After careful consideration, we have concluded that this practice is worth extending and we have made the decision to continue the 4DWW for the calendar year of 2024 with its longer-term future contingent upon another review in September 2024. This will allow us to continue to collect data and measure the success of the initiative. 

We hope sharing our experience will inspire others, including funders, to reflect on what decent work means in our sector. 

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