Prolong the daily grind & shorten the week? Most pick a longer four day work week over five shorter days

by David Korzinski | June 21, 2018 7:30 pm

Men and women of across all generations prefer move away from five eight-hour days

June 22, 2018 –  In 1930, it seemed like a forgone future. Influential economist John Maynard Keynes seemed certain[1] when he wrote in his Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren that a 15-hour work week was almost inevitable in Western societies within 100 years.

Today, however, Canadians would settle for far less.

Indeed, a new study from the Angus Reid Institutes finds that while a three-day work week seemed like a real possibility to a significant portion of the population fifty years ago, that dream has all but vanished in 2018.

That doesn’t mean Canadians don’t want to work toward it however. Close to half of Canadians (47%) say that moving to a 30-hour work week from 40 hours is a good idea. Notably, the size of the group saying the opposite – that this is a bad idea – is less than half of what it was in the 1950’s and 60’s, down to just three-in-ten (31%).

Further, if they have to continue to work a standard 40-hour week, seven-in-ten (68%) now say they would prefer to condense it into four 10-hour shifts rather than five eight-hour segments. This represents a 25-point rise in the number of Canadians who said so in 1981.

More Key Findings:


Half of Canadians prefer a 30-hour work week

During the 20th century, the establishment of a 40-hour work week was seen as a progressive change for workers rights. This limit was formalized in legislation in the United States in 1938 as a part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and Canadian unions helped to push[2] for these same standards in Canada during the decades that followed. The average work week had settled at 35 to 40 hours in Canada by the mid-1960’s.[3]

While this progress has helped to balance work and leisure, it appears that many would be satisfied if the standard week was reduced even further as the quarter-mark of the 21st century approaches. Some researchers have suggested that this move would help to increase worker productivity, as a more-rested and less-stressed workforce may be able apply greater focus while on the job. Amazon announced[4] that it would pilot a 30-hour project in 2016.

While there are certainly impediments to implementing a new, reduced standard for working hours, half of Canadians (47%) still say a 30-hour work week is a good idea. Three-in-ten disagree (31%) and 22 per cent are unsure.


Detractors say that this compressed work schedule may not work for everyone.[5] Some say that a three-day weekend means less will get done in the workplace, leading to losses for businesses and ultimately employees. Opponents also say[6] many people cannot afford to be paid less, if that is a condition of reduced work. This was the case with Amazon, where employees taking part in the four-day work week were paid 75 per cent of their salaries.

To compensate for this, many economists theorize that a guaranteed income would need to be implemented in concert[7] with changes to offset potential income losses. For more on that topic, click the link below.

Related: Basic Income? Canadians weigh in on what funding they would support[8]

In 1956, respondents were asked the same question. At the time, almost twice as many Canadians (57%) said it was a bad idea to consider a 30-hour week. Similarly, two-thirds (66%) opposed a 32-hour week when asked in 1961.

Among each generation, between 45 and 49 per cent of respondents now say a 30-hour work week is a “good idea”. The largest factor in differences of opinion is political affiliation. Here, past Conservative voters are twice as likely as past Liberals and New Democrats to say this is a bad suggestion:

If they can’t have fewer hours, a majority would settle for four longer days

Another option discussed is maintaining the 40-hour standard, but compressing those hours into four days rather than five. This appears to be a popular option with Canadians. Seven-in-ten (68%) say that they would prefer four 10-hour days, rather than five eight-hour ones. Men are slightly more in favour of the idea than women:

The desire for that extra day off has been growing. Asked at the beginning of the 1980s by Gallup Canada, just four-in-ten Canadians (43%) said that they preferred a change while six-in-ten (57%) were happy with the five-day status quo. At the beginning of the 90’s the camps were split equally:

While there is broad support across the population for this proposal, the highest levels of support are among men over the age of 35:

Would an extra day off really guarantee more free time? It may not be as safe a bet as one might think. As the Angus Reid Institute found in a 2015 study, increasing technological capacity has corresponded with more time spent working, or at the very least, connected to work through mobile devices, while away from the workplace. While some Canadians would surely make the most of their extra day, another group may remain ‘on’ even while they’re off:


A three-day work week by 2038? Not likely

Economists have long suggested[9] that increasing technological advances and automation will reduce the required number of hours for the typical work day. In fact, a recent report[10] from McKinsey Global Institute proposed that more than 800 million jobs will be replaced or affected globally by 2030, which would certainly affect the number of hours necessary to accomplish the same tasks. The theory is that as human labour is less needed, more time can be spent on leisure activities. This, combined with more than 200 years of labour activism, has already led to fewer hours worked in industrialized nations.

Some of those key dates are summarized in the graphic below:

In 1959, Canadians were asked by Gallup to look forward 20 years and consider whether or not they thought that a three-day work week was something that would happen by 1979. At the time, about one-quarter (24%) said that this was in their crystal ball, while seven-in-ten disagreed (69%).

Not far removed from the Second World War and the Great Depression, perhaps the thought that work would be reduced was looked upon with less anticipation than might be expected. Work meant growth and better quality of life. That had changed by 1969. By then, half of Canadians (48%) said that by 1989 they expected to be working a three-day week. Respondents were asked this just three months after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and perhaps Canadians were feeling good about where technology was taking them.

The same response levels were found in 1985. Fifty per cent of respondents said that by 2005 they would be working a three-day week. However, asked in 2018 by the Institute, the affirmative response to this question has almost disappeared. Only 13 per cent of Canadians say that they expect this to happen. This is particularly interesting due to ongoing discussions of automation and the potential affects this may render.

Related: Technology replacing workers: is the worst over? Or yet to come?[11]

While a majority of most age groups say that this shorter work week will not happen, those ages 65 and older are more hopeful. One-quarter of retirement age Canadians (25%) say a three-day work week is on the way, three times higher than the number of 18-24-year-olds who agree:


It appears, then, that despite growing recognition of impending job losses – not to mention the high number of Canadians who say that technology will eliminate more jobs than it creates[12] going forward – two-thirds of residents do not expect to be working less.

There are myriad challenges for government and private businesses in order to maintain a similar average level of societal affluence with reduced human labour. Redistribution and basic income programs are politically challenging[13] and would likely be a part of a reduced work environment. Some say there’s enough money to go around[14]. Indeed, Canadians are richer than ever[15], but modern societies are increasingly unequal in the distribution of their unprecedented wealth.

For now, it appears Canadians are expecting to continue on with the status quo.


The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.[16]

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology[17]

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey[18]

Image – Roman Bozhko/Unsplash


Dave Korzinski, Research Associate: 250.899.0821[19]

  1. seemed certain:
  2. helped to push:
  3. by the mid-1960’s.:
  4. announced:
  5. may not work for everyone.:
  6. Opponents also say:
  7. implemented in concert:
  8. Related: Basic Income? Canadians weigh in on what funding they would support:
  9. have long suggested:
  10. recent report:
  11. Related: Technology replacing workers: is the worst over? Or yet to come?:
  12. eliminate more jobs than it creates:
  13. politically challenging:
  14. enough money to go around:
  15. richer than ever:
  16. click here.:
  17. Click here for the full report including tables and methodology:
  18. Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey:

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