Tech tapping four-day work weeks in battle for talent

But some experts warn that such incentives may have unintended consequences

Beacon PR CEO Nicole Davidson: “We’ve seen some workplaces report higher burnout from having to condense five days of work into four” |Rob Kruyt/BIV files

Who wouldn’t want a long weekend every week this summer?

“The employees basically requested it,” said Alida Inc. CEO Ross Wainwright, whose tech firm specializes in collecting and analyzing customer experience data.

And with that the company, founded as Vision Critical in Vancouver back in 2000, will pilot a four-day work week this July and August before deciding whether to make it permanent.

This increasingly common arrangement comes as companies look for different incentives to attract and retain workers amid a global shortage of tech talent. But experts disagree on how effective four-day work weeks are.

No salary will be shed among Alida workers, who number 500 globally and about 200 in Vancouver. Instead, employees will be expected to determine the best way to complete their work throughout the week, take Fridays off and make accommodations for clients whenever needed.

“The business case is around retention of top talent and recruiting top talent,” Wainwright said.

Nicole Davidson, CEO of Vancouver-based Beacon HR Inc., said the industry is at an inflection point as the Great Resignation makes its way to Canada, and workers are increasingly leaving jobs they’re not 100 per cent satisfied with.

“While a four-day work week might sound appealing, employers need to consider the nature of their businesses, the financial implications and the impact a transition to a shorter work week might have on culture and employee wellness,” said Davidson, whose company provides human resources and recruiting services for the tech sector.

“We’ve seen some workplaces report higher burnout from having to condense five days of work into four – the exact opposite of the intended effect.”

She’s been advising clients to take smaller steps, such as considering seasonal hours and perhaps turning Fridays into a half-day during the summer.

“Many employers are feeling tired and frustrated. They’re asking ‘where does it stop?’” Davidson said. “They feel that they keep giving their employees more, and it’s never enough to satisfy them.”

Meanwhile, a labour market outlook released by the B.C. government earlier this month predicts the tech sector will generate 140,700 job openings between 2021 and 2031. That’s second only to jobs in health care, which is expected to have 142,900 openings during that same period.

But in the hunt for top tech talent, some of the incentives offered by employers may have unintended consequences, according to Karim Ben-Jaafar, president and chief revenue officer of Vancouver-founded Beanworks Solutions Inc.

“Ask yourself if you can firmly commit to forbidding a fifth working day even if your company is behind on targets or late on project delivery. Because that is what it will take, as evidenced by the poor stats on vacation time taken in companies offering unlimited days off compared to those that don’t,” he told BIV.

“There is pressure, stress and the unspoken expectation that while you can take a couple of extra weeks off this year, the team will really suffer if you do. Now imagine if you must deal with that understanding on a weekly basis.”

He said there must be full buy-in from senior leadership who should be explicitly and repeatedly telling employees it’s fine if not all their work is completed within those four days. “Otherwise, the informal pressure to work longer hours during the four days and still be online during days off will unfortunately be a reality for many employees.”

Wainwright said Alida has performed well during the pandemic, and he trusts his workers to try out the four-day work week for the summer trial run.

“The message that I’ve heard from the employees is they want to make it wildly successful and they know they’ve got a part to play to make sure that this contract is a really successful venture.” •