A 4-Day Workweek Has Been In Place For Decades At This Canadian Foundation & Here's Why

With four-day workweeks currently being tested all over the world, it may come as a surprise to some that one organization in Canada has been doing it for decades.

The David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), which is a non-profit organization, was founded in 1990 and from the outset has always had a shorter-than-average workweek.

Narcity spoke to Severn Cullis-Suzuki, the executive director of the DSF, on why the four-day workweek was implemented in the first place and why she believes it's helping people become better citizens.

Why did the DSF choose a four-day workweek?

"When they first got started 32 years ago, it was my mom and her girlfriends who were starting to make the organization and put it into being," Cullis-Suzuki explained. "And they were all parents, they were all people who had families and were active in their communities and really believed in contributing to their children's schools, and volunteering for other organizations."

Cullis-Suzuki said that DSF ultimately decided on having a four-day workweek so that the organization could support "healthy whole human beings to be active citizens."

Her father, David Suzuki, reminded Cullis-Suzuki recently that her mother, Tara Cullis, used to say "we want activists to be able to avoid burnout," which is something they were seeing in their peers at the time.

What's it like having a four-day workweek?

"A lot of people have to be reminded to actually take the four-day workweek because we do have a lot of activists," Cullis-Suzuki said.

She noted that it's important to keep herself accountable to the schedule to model to others to take it seriously and take care of their own well-being.

"I do think that COVID has been this huge reminder that taking care of yourself is a serious priority for the workplace," she said. "It's easier to for us all to really kind of think about what is the point of the four-day workweek. I'm so glad that we've had 30 years of this that we can celebrate."

Do people get less done in a four-day workweek?

"There's never enough time to work. But I think we'd feel like that regardless of how many days a week we were working," Cullis-Suzuki said.

But she also noted that "off" days can be extremely productive in a different way.

"The amount of work that's not necessarily valued or paid in society that I get done when I'm with my kids or with my elders, working with them and doing stuff [...] it's not productivity, but it's really significant. And it makes a difference," she explained.

"We have to start valuing that and really asking these big questions about what is it that we do in this world? And what is being productive? And what are we really setting out to do as an organization? I think we all need to be asking that across the board."

Do you see any benefit to having a five-day workweek?

"Over the years, it has come up, as people have been responding to the climate crisis, the houses-on-fire kind of approach," Cullis-Suzuki said.

But whenever discussions are had about implementing it, she said that it gets shut down by staff very quickly.

"I don't think that we'd ever go back to or go to a five-day workweek because that has become a really important part of the culture at DSF," she said.

Do you think it's a sustainable model for other businesses?

"I think it's part of a sustainable model," she said. "I think that there's other things that need to happen in support of the staff. How are you going to address that in your work plans? What is the approach to the entire year? How do holidays work? All of those kinds of things really need to be considered."

Cullis-Suzuki said that she hopes the conversation around shorter workweeks begins to focus on "the work that we do in society and what is valued."

"Is it we value this kind of busyness and having lots of lists and executing and lots of meetings and go, go go?" she mused. "But what about the work that we need to do and community and the wholeness of the family and yourself? And I think that right now we're in a place where we can actually really engage with that."

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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