Instead of the “Monday Scaries,” employees of mobile game developer Square Enix Montréal have “Magic Mondays.”
The company instituted a four-day workweek out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic but now, the policy remains to help the growing company retain workers in a competitive labour market.
“It started a year and a half ago and it was meant to help employees cope with stress: working from home, homeschooling, having to cope with all that work-life balance in that new working from home situation,” Nathalie Gauthier, executive producer at Square Enix Montréal, tells Global News.
“Magic Mondays” give employees every other Monday off, with no reduction in compensation. On Mondays when they’re on the clock, the policy requires all meetings be kept to a minimum to encourage maximum productivity with limited distractions.
“People love it so much, so we decided to make it permanent,” Gauthier explains. “It’s definitely a bonus in terms of retention and acquisition of talent.”
Square Enix Montréal has grown from 50 to 150 employees in three years. Gauthier credits this specific perk.
“It’s also a way to put your money where your mouth is. We as a company always say we put employees first and it’s a very concrete measure to be able to do that,” she said.
Canada’s tight labour market has created a war for talent and proponents of the four-day workweek, from private firms to municipalities and politicians, say it’s an important tool to retain and attract workers. Companies from a broad array of industries are grappling to hire and keep employees amid record-low unemployment and an unprecedented number of job vacancies. High burnout rates spurred by the pandemic and the Great Rethink are also prompting many to leave their current role or the job market entirely.
This follows a global trend toward a shortened or compressed work week that picked up momentum this month as 3,300 workers at 70 companies across the U.K. embarked on a pilot to test four-day workweeks for half a year. Notably, this trial, thought to be the largest of its kind in the world, does not involve a reduction in pay and includes a variety of sectors, including retail, software and financial services.
The four-day work week was unanimously greenlighted by the council of the township of Zorra in southwestern Ontario in late 2021 on the heels of its successful eight-month pilot. Researchers from Western and York universities tracked the project and found that, similar to large-scale trials in Iceland between 2015 and 2019, productivity remained the same or higher and satisfaction rates among workers and the clients they served were high.
At the time, Joseph Lyons, a political science professor and director of Western University’s local government program, said “a potential lesson here is that organizations with good culture and strong leadership are more likely to be innovative.”
The study of the township East of London, Ont., was one of the biggest public sector four-day workweek trials in Canada. It involved 30 employees of Zorra municipality who worked 10 hours a day either Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday.
Don MacLeod, Zorra’s chief administrative officer, said he continues to field calls “weekly” about the project from municipalities and private businesses spanning from B.C. to Ontario.
“That extra day just means a world of difference. We found a more relaxed atmosphere at work. People seem to be more engaged and it seems our workforce is happier,” he said.
MacLeod said the compressed work week has been key in attracting and retaining senior staff and junior employees alike.
“We hear now about how difficult it is to recruit senior employees. We felt that was one more tool in our toolbox to recruit but also to retain key staff members,” he said.
“We have some younger staff members now who have said they would not go anywhere else that did not have a four-day workweek.”
MacLeod said on his Mondays off he’s usually taking his elderly father to medical appointments, running errands, golfing in the Summer or enjoying an extra day of downtime.
During the run-up to this year’s Ontario election, two major parties, the NDP and the Liberals, put four-day workweeks on the table as part of their campaign promises. Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford was re-elected and his stance is that scheduling is best left to the private sector.
Macleod admits compressed workweeks are not for every sector, every type of employee. Zorra’s four-day workweek mode doesn’t apply to all departments year-round. Public Works staff are on a schedule of nine days on, every second Friday off from April through October to spring, summer and fall. But when there could be snow to be plowed, they go back to a regular schedule for five months.
“We found we were unable to make it one size fits all, but tailored per department,” he said.
Flexibility is key, and so is common sense.
According to a recent survey of Square Enix Montréal employees, most are using the extra day every two weeks to spread errands out over three days rather than just Saturday and Sunday. But others tell the company it has been invaluable from a mental health and wellness perspective, to unwind.
“Play video games, do DIY projects,” Gauthier said. “It’s very, very appreciated.”
She said one important policy implemented to ensure the ongoing success of Magic Mondays is adjusting production calendars to reflect the compressed work week. This took the burden of a full-time production schedule off of employees.
“It would have been counterproductive to stress employees to compensate production-wise,” Gauthier said.
She knows firsthand what a game-changer a four-day workweek can be, especially for working parents who were disproportionately impacted during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“As a mother of three, it has definitely been helpful for me with work-life balance. It gives me an extra day to do things for my family and spend time with my girls,” she said.
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