Stay up to date, sign up for our e-newsletter.

Subscribe today >

Marin County’s Canal Alliance Champions the Four-Day Work Week

May 23, 2024

North Bay Latino services non-profit adopts new schedule to prioritize employee wellness 

A Canal Alliance intake specialist shows off signage regarding the agency’s new office hours for clients

In February of 2024, Canal Alliance began a pilot for the four-day work week, transitioning its staff to a 32 hours-a-week schedule while paying employees the same salaries as they had earned when working five days a week. This month the Latino-services agency made the change permanent, announcing that their four-day work week is here to stay. 

Canal Alliance’s CEO Omar Carrera says the decision came after a years-long focus on employee wellbeing at the agency and ties directly to its 2028 vision, a 10-year plan which, among other goals, calls on the organization to become a leading place to work in Marin County. Carrera says that since the fall of 2021, Canal Alliance has been especially focused on staff wellness and retention: “Our staff is comprised of industry leaders, experts in their fields, and I was — and continue to be — very motivated to show them the respect they so deserve.” In a phased initiative, the agency has improved salaries, increased retirement and other benefits, and embraced conversations about additional changes the agency might make to improve efficacy and benefit employees. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Canal Alliance found itself at the nexus of myriad challenges, keeping its doors open to support the highly impacted Latino community of Marin with vaccination, job security, housing security, and more. All the while, Canal Alliance staff were experiencing their own losses to the virus, opening the non-profit’s doors every morning while grieving the deaths of loved ones. Carrera says he and the organization’s leadership team responded by doubling down on their work to improve conditions for its employees, introducing a quarterly wellness day. “Staff reported appreciating the additional paid day off, and also told us that it didn’t feel like enough to recover,” says Carrera. Canal Alliance’s leaders determined they would do more.   

“As an important social services agency in the region, hiring and retaining expert leaders and staff for all of our departments is central to our long-term success,” says Carrera. “Thankfully, one of the cornerstones of my leadership approach is listening to these same in-house experts, so when our Chief Human Resources Officer Johanna Schleret proposed a four-day work week, I listened.” 

It was not the first time the topic had surfaced at Canal Alliance; other organizations abroad and in the Bay Area had already tried it to varying degrees of success. Some were keeping it and seeing positive results, while others were having to take it back, a scenario Canal Alliance knew it wanted to avoid. Together Carrera and Schleret agreed to do the homework necessary to implement a four-day work week and succeed. 

A native of Germany, a country that enjoys somewhere between 20-30 vacation days per year before accounting for holidays and sick time, Schleret pored over the research. It was not long before she had developed the beginnings of a plan. Yes, a 32-hour schedule could increase efficiency, improve employee wellbeing, and benefit organizational health. But if Canal Alliance was to be successful in its implementation, it became clear to Schleret and Carrera both that they needed to fundamentally change some of the ways the organization operated.  

“Once we changed our perspective to think of time and attention as limited resources, the path forward made itself clear,” says Schleret. They zeroed in on accelerating organizational change: focusing very intentionally on desired outcomes, increasing transparency and accountability across the organization, decentralizing decision making, and empowering departments to co-create for more efficiency and less bureaucracy. Individual teams were entrusted with determining which tasks were mission critical. Meetings were shortened and technology and AI were leveraged, eliminating time-consuming work. 

With this new way of working in place, Canal Alliance began its four-day work week pilot. Throughout the experiment, Carrera says Canal Alliance kept close track of pre-determined measures of success — metrics on clients, staff, and operational and programmatic goals. The results? Canal Alliance did indeed change the way it operated. Within the compressed schedule, the staff grew programming, increased office hours to clients, increased efficiency across departments, and saw improved staff happiness and dramatically reduced burnout. Moreover, over a three-month period of 2024 compared to the same period of 2023, the agency saw interest in open positions increase nearly 300% and turnover drop by half. 

With the pilot now complete, Carrera and Schleret say they feel the four-day work week schedule buttressed their efforts to evolve the way the agency works and evaluates itself, serving as a backstop while the organization increased its focus on prioritization, ingenuity, and outcomes over outputs. “A four-day work week isn’t about working harder or working faster, it is about working smarter,” says Schleret. 

Analyzing pilot data, it was immediately clear to Carrera and Schleret they should make the schedule change permanent. “We are data driven,” says Carrera, “And by every measure our team and our organization have benefited from this change.”  

Overall, 92% of employees reported that their work-life balance improved, 87% said that their mental health benefited, and 79% credited the new schedule with improved physical health.  

Clients have appreciated the agency’s adjusted office hours too, with the front doors now open continuously from 8:00am to 6:00pm Monday through Thursday, an increase from 32 client hours a week to 40. “Our clients have expressed great relief about our extended hours,” says Laura Jiménez-Diecks, Social Services Supervisor. “With staggered staff schedules we now open earlier, stay open later, and see clients midday. This has allowed a different and wider clientele to access our services. What’s more, now that we stay open through lunch, we have reduced wait times. Clients no longer must stand in line.” Unplanned benefits have come about as well, as early morning visitors to the organization’s weekly food pantry can now access other services while on site.  

Schleret says that, beyond the numbers, what has stayed with her the most are the personal stories staff have shared via surveys conducted throughout the pilot. One staffer reported catching cancer early — and surviving — thanks to the four-day work week and finally having time for a routine medical appointment. Others reported happier homes, gratitude for more time with friends and family. Still others said that by Monday morning they now feel restored and ready for the challenges that come with front-line social services work.   

Every day, Canal Alliance cares for clients facing a multitude of complex challenges that come with immigration: challenges with legal status, emotional wellness, financial stability, housing, employment, education, and more. Who better to serve them than a devoted — and well rested — team of experts? 

Read more posts in: Media

Stay Informed

Join our mailing list

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.