By Sue Tiffin
After the upcoming Canada Day long weekend, Algonquin Highlands township staff will begin trialling a compressed work week, making long weekends a weekly option.
Algonquin Highlands council supported the eight-month trial, which is planned to begin July 4 until Feb. 28, 2023, at their June 16 council meeting, many councillors and the CAO expressing their excitement for the policy.
“As we know, the landscape for providing services to the public is changing, we know that … recruitment and retention of qualified staff is challenging,” said Angie Bird, CAO. “What we also know is that, as a result of the pandemic, there are many other municipalities that have trialled these compressed work weeks, policies in various forms of course, and they’ve proven to be very, very successful, and at no cost to the township.”
A compressed work week means employees will work longer hours in a day in exchange for a reduction in the number of working days.
Staff working in the township office in administration, finance, fire, building/bylaw, environmental and planning departments currently work 35 hours per week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., from Monday to Friday with an unpaid one-hour lunch break. In the compressed work week arrangement, those staff that choose to participate will work 8.75 hours per day, from 8 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. from either Monday to Thursday, or Tuesday to Friday with a lunch break reduced to 30 minutes.
Township office hours will be amended to reflect this change, being open instead from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., equating to an additional five hours of service per week for residents.
Those township employees who currently work 40 hours per week will work 10 hours per day from Monday to Thursday.
A two-team approach has been organized to “ensure seamless and consistent customer service delivery for all municipal stakeholders,” according to Bird’s report to council.
Team A will work from Monday to Thursday while Team B will work from Tuesday to Friday, with adjustments to take place as necessary.
“This particular policy provides five additional hours to the public,” said Bird. “It’s proposed to improve workplace morale, we are going to be giving staff an additional day off. It will provide an innovative recruitment and retention opportunity. When recruiting we can say, you [work] four days and you have three days off, which is great. And then, there’s the environmental aspect of it. There’s one reduced day of driving to work. So those are the positives for it, for sure.”
Bird said department heads have considered business continuity and coverage, and have discussed the policy with staff, and that “everyone’s really excited about it. There’s a lot of support for it, we’ve discussed it at length.”
Not all staff will be able to opt in to the policy – for example, the parks, recreation and trails department, which operates on a seven day per week schedule, but Bird asked that the policy be expanded into other departments where and when possible.
“It’s a bold and progressive move in terms of service provision, and operations, and being a desirable employer,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt during the meeting. “We’ve learned through COVID – COVID allowed us to do things that we might not have tried before.”
Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen agreed, asking about the decision to run the trial for eight months as opposed to six months.
Bird responded the decision was made as a result of the upcoming October election, which could result in a new council in Algonquin Highlands.
“This is a big policy for consideration so if there’s any changes recommended or permanent recommendation for implementation then I want a new council to be able to have feedback,” she said.
Councillor Lisa Barry asked if the trial is mandatory, noting not all employees will be able to take part in it, and Bird said it is voluntary.
Moffatt said the trial allows for modification and assessment as needed.
“Angie could come back in eight months and say, it just ended up being a dog’s breakfast and we couldn’t make it work, or, it could be, goodness, this is the way to go permanently,” she said. “ It is exciting, and if I were a staff person I’d be excited too.”
Danielsen said she appreciated the way cross-coverage had been worked out, to ensure the appropriate person is available at the right time.
“I can’t see the public having any issue with it because you’re available, the office is open and available to the public at all times and even better than before – certainly better than during COVID,” she said.
Moffatt noted the public had become “extremely comfortable” with making appointments during the pandemic, and that if there is frustration about that moving forward, it can be built into the assessment.
Bird agreed appointment-making had been successful, and that there’s still walk-in traffic but generally if people need to see someone, they call ahead.
Moffatt asked how the trial would be deemed successful, or not.
“I really do think the criteria has to be input from the public,” said Bird. “If we don’t have any complaints or questions about staff not being here, or not being able to reach them, and also the input from staff – do they like the long days? Some people may not, they are longer days. We’ll establish more criteria than that, but the idea is to evaluate what the public thinks and what we as staff think.”
“The public feedback needs to be around service provision, not just, ‘I don’t like it,’” said Moffatt. “It has to be quantifiable.”
A four-day work week has been implemented in other municipalities in Ontario, including the township of Springwater and the township of Zorra. Additionally, the County of Haliburton has implemented a version of a compressed workweek, which allows for staff to work a four-day work week every other week, when possible, which has been in effect since Aug. 2021.