Is a condensed, 3-day work week a good idea for work-life balance?

ABOVE: Would you prefer a three-day work week? Jennifer Palisoc reports. 

Three days of work, 10 to 12 hours a day, then take a four day weekend.  It’s a proposal made by a Mexican billionaire tycoon, but Canadian experts studying work life balance say they aren’t sold on this idea.

Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim – who’s reportedly among the richest people in the world – told reporters Monday that he’s in favour of introducing a three-day work week. Employees would work longer days, and they’d take a late retirement, but they’d have a better life, he suggested.

“With three work days a week, we would have more time to relax; for quality of life,” Slim said at a business conference in Paraguay, the Financial Times reported.

“Having four days [off] would be very important to generate new entertainment activities and other ways of being occupied,” Slim said.
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Striking the right balance between work and personal life has been a hot button issue in recent years, according to Dr. Scott Schieman, a University of Toronto sociologist and Canada Research Chair in the social contexts of health.

“It’s a huge issue. There’s only so much time and energy everyone has and people juggle their work-related demands and family demands daily,” he told Global News.

“My suspicion is this [three-day work week] comes with a lot of downsides. It’s kind of like cramming for a test – if you’re under a lot of pressure, some people might thrive under those conditions but others might have more stress,” Schieman warned.
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Nurses, doctors, pilots, cops and long-haul truck drivers, along with other professions, work long shifts on a regular basis, though.

Dr. Donna Lero, a University of Guelph professor and Jarislowsky Chair in Families and Work, said that in 2008, the U.S. state of Utah implemented a four-day work week for its government employees.

It was meant to cut down on transportation costs and heating, cooling and running the office space. But for those who had to commute a long way to work, the longer days weren’t pleasant.

“They found it more difficult to travel a long day and travel the next day. There was no time for recuperation,” Lero explained. Employees with young kids or parents who needed elderly care had trouble finding arrangements that accommodated their extended shifts.

“In a nutshell, for some it works extremely well but for others it doesn’t at all,” she said.

Research has even suggested that employees lose their focus within seven hours of work.

“It’s a struggle to work over a long period of time. We’re not meant to work those kinds of hours. We get tired, lose focus and attention and there are more accidents and injuries on the job,” Lero explained.

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Ultimately, Schieman suggests that Canadian employers and their workers zero in on “work life fit” more so than “balance.”

“There’s a greater awareness of different kinds of ‘flexible arrangements’ that involves allowing people to have more control over when they start and finish work, the timing and the location,” he said.

“The idea is that as long as you’re able to be committed and successfully completing work responsibilities, workplaces will be comfortable with allowing and even promoting flexible arrangements that enhance your life,” he said.

And these days, with employees toting their cell phones and laptops home with them, it’s an important discussion workplaces need to have, Schieman said.

Recently, Slim even offered his employees access to early retirement if they began working at Telmex in their teens, according to The Guardian in the U.K.  Those who want to work beyond retirement can even do so at full pay but with a reduced workload.

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