Nova Scotia winery moves to four-day week and adds volunteering to workforce

Wine isn’t the only bubbly thing about working at Benjamin Bridge.

The Gaspereau Valley vineyard has started a pilot project to introduce a four-day week for its employees.

“I had the idea to pitch it to the management team a few months ago, and it came to fruition with the support of the team,” co-owner Ashley McConnell-Gordon said in an interview. “I think that’s the story of Benjamin Bridge; we are evolving as best we can over time, recognizing what people value and how we can be fairer as an employer. We’ve heard of the four-day week model, which isn’t so much about working longer days as it is about working smarter and fewer hours.

For Benjamin Bridge, the concept came from the production team, which adopted the modification last summer.

“And what we found was that job joy and productivity increased, as well as overall well-being,” McConnell-Gordon said. “So through this trial, we challenged all of our departments to see how they could adopt it this fall, and here we are. It’s a 36 hour work week for which we pay 40 hours, and in addition to working 36 hours in four days, so nine hour days, over several weeks, they have overtime for which we paid them and they didn’t it didn’t work. And we hope it will give them the opportunity to focus on their well-being, achieve a better work-life balance and come back after a three-day break energized, focused and even more competitive in the workplace. .

The four-day week at Benjamin Bridge includes “a small adjustment in that our team must also commit to nine hours of volunteering in the community over an eight-week period”, the idea being to give people a space to be more active citizens. This also applies to owners.

Ashley McConnell-Gordon – Contribution

“For my part, I hope to be a business mentor through the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia. This is what interests me to support, and I know that there are those who are interested in the SPCA, others who want to contribute through food banks. We don’t have a list of where people are contributing yet, but that’s where we’re headed,” McConnell-Gordon said. “Everyone is excited to try it. I think the opportunity to do more for the community resonates.

Winery departments include hospitality, production, vineyard, marketing and sales, and a modified workweek is easier for some than others.

“All departments are thinking about how to implement this strategy throughout the year. It’s a challenge; we’re in the agriculture industry, but we’re riding it, trying to navigate our way through it. For (some) departments this is quite natural and quite easy to do.

The change comes as Benjamin Bridge has also taken the initiative to keep the winery open year-round. It created a skating rink last winter and will add groomed walking and snowshoeing trails this year. Starting this weekend, the vineyard will be lit up at night, which will hopefully continue the trend that saw traffic triple last winter.

“It stems from, ‘Why are we doing this in the Gaspereau Valley of Nova Scotia?’ and that’s because we want to be a responsible and sustainable company. For us, that means not having a seasonal workforce, but trying to create permanent, stable jobs in rural Nova Scotia. To do that, we need to think about how we can extend our season and keep people employed,” McConnell-Gordon said. “Last year was extremely exciting with the rink, and we saw the potential to do even more. We want almost everyone to keep going, and that’s very different from some of the other agritourism businesses. The way we do it is to create innovative fun experiences that people can have. »

Currently, Benjamin Bridge has 65 employees, 40 of whom are full-time. There are over 100 in the summer.

Other wineries are also trying to find ways to extend their season.

“We currently have an initiative called Behind the Vine where we are trying to push the tourist season back into November and hold events until the end of the weekend,” said Haley Brown, executive director of Wine Growers Nova. Scotia, pointing to newly renovated Luckett Vineyard, Lightfoot & Wolfville and Domaine de Grand, as wineries hoping to be open during the winter. “Grand Pré is hosting the Icewine Festival in February this year.”

Elisha A. Tilghman