MAGGY BURNS: Four-day work week a recipe for restoring natural balance

MAGGY BURNS • Guest review

Maggy Burns is the executive director of the Ecology Action Centre, which celebrated 50 years of environmental action and advocacy in 2021.

We are making an ungodly mess of this world.

We don’t want to, but we are. We are good people. We work hard, we produce quality work that we are proud of, and if we are lucky, we earn a lot of money and live well.

But it seems the harder we work, the worse things get. The climate is in crisis, the rich are getting obscenely rich while more and more of our neighbors are homeless, and the majority of us are working our days to death.

We all want more time. We dream of it: more time to reconnect with the people we love, get out into nature, and enjoy the beauty of this planet we call home. It’s time to relax, to create something beautiful of your own – be it a garden, a feast or a work of art – instead of fueling the machine that destroys things.

So many of our lives are lived inside a hamster wheel, working harder to earn more and spend more on more things.

As Executive Director of a major environmental charity in Nova Scotia, let me state officially that even those who are dedicated to work they find crucial and meaningful can fall into this trap – on the contrary, this makes them more vulnerable to overwork and burnout, especially given the challenging nature of our work to create a better future for ourselves and generations to come.

Maggy Burns: “Many of our lives are lived in a hamster wheel, working harder to earn more and spending more on more things.” – Contributed

But there is good news. Really good news. Many studies over the years, including EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and a Nova Scotia classic called Working Time and the Future of Work in Canada, show that working less is good for the economy. It’s because what really motivates us is not those forgettable possessions or the money that buys them, but the opportunity to develop and express our abilities.

This wisdom has been around for decades, with various researchers and advocates arguing for a four-day work week, which reduces stress, reduces the environmental impact of commuting, and has actually been shown to increase productivity.

It took us too long to get here, but many institutions and organizations are finally implementing the four-day work week, including the Ecology Action Center, starting October 3. Nova Scotia, New Dawn Enterprises and the Cape Breton Center for Craft and Design. Together, live our values.

We are launching a nine-month pilot project and with the help of Stephanie Gilbert from Cape Breton University and Change Lab Action Research Initiative (CLARI), we are monitoring the four organizations’ results in terms of customer satisfaction and productivity. personal. Weekly rates of pay will remain the same, but for fewer hours.

A four-day work week – 30 hours instead of 37.5 – is one way for us to be an organization that cares about our employees and our planet. As a non-profit organization, we have always worked hard to maintain fair compensation. But with the cost of living rising rapidly, we need to find new ways to attract and retain highly qualified people. Not staff, but people.

Nothing like a global pandemic to trigger change. Although COVID has presented new challenges, the fight for a better world is not new to the EAC. A four-day work week – 30 hours instead of 37.5 – is one way for us to be an organization that cares about our employees and our planet. As a non-profit organization, we have always worked hard to maintain fair compensation. But with the cost of living rising rapidly, we need to find new ways to attract and retain highly qualified people. Not staff, but people.

We cannot compete with the public or private sectors on salary, but we can support the more human aspects of people’s needs, not only as workers, but as humans seeking the satisfaction of being at their better – in a more efficient and creative workflow, better able to prioritize – and their creative and extracurricular efforts with family, community and the natural spaces we work so hard to protect.

Change is always difficult, but we are a creative organization with the ability to experiment and learn. We also have the advantage of using successful models, such as Iceland, where 86% of the workforce works a four-day week, the Guysborough District Municipality and other environmental organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation, which led the way in the 1990s — EcoSuperior in Thunder Bay and Greenpeace.

Employees in these organizations reported feeling more productive, more focused during the day, attending fewer meetings for less time, taking fewer breaks during the day, and having better mental health, better quality of life, and better work-life balance.

In our planning process, the people of EAC were delighted to have the chance to garden, cook, pursue artistic interests, nurture relationships with loved ones – especially the children in their care – and much safe, to enjoy the abundant natural world that we fight to protect.