Could A 4 Day Work Week Be On The Cards?

The past two-plus years have radically shaken traditional work models, and flexible working arrangements are fast becoming the norm. Many employees have liked what they tasted, which included newfound freedom in more flexible work arrangements and are looking at ways to keep the momentum going.

Enter: the four-day work week, an approach that has worked for employers and employees in other parts of the world. Recently, some 20 companies across Australia and New Zealand in industries ranging from finance to fashion kicked off a four-day work week ANZ pilot study.

A four-day week isn’t about having an extra day off. Instead, it’s a shift about delivering more productivity, and meeting customer service standards, while delivering on personal and team business goals and objectives more efficiently and sustainably for people and the planet.

But how would working one less day a week actually work?

How reduced hours impact productivity.
An essential part of the conversation around adopting a four-day work week is the potential impact on productivity. Advocates of a four-day work week often claim that productivity need not be affected, and research from trials and experiments around the world show productivity improves.

For example, one trial in Iceland, in which workers reduced their work week to four days but were paid the equivalent of five days, took place between 2015 and 2019. Productivity either remained the same or improved in most workplaces.

How much of the workday is actually productive? 
According to a recent UK study, which looked at 1,989 full-time UK office workers, the average time an employee spends working during a traditional eight-hour workday is just two hours and 23 minutes. The rest of that time is spent on time-killing activities such as surfing social media, reading the news, making food or even looking for new jobs.

Andrew Barnes, a New Zealand entrepreneur and co-author of the book “4 Day Week,” claims the best way to combat a lack of productivity is to give people an extra day off, which creates extra incentive to work harder.

Are four-day work weeks common in Australia?
The Australian Nurse and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) is calling on the government to axe the standard five-day working week in a bid to boost productivity and change the way Australians work. The ANMF also noted that the 38-hour work week, when initially introduced in Australia in 1983, “was set in consideration of a very different domestic context”.

Despite evidence for the shift to a four-day work week, many Australian organisations seem reluctant to challenge the status quo. As with flexible working arrangements through COVID-19, adopting a four-day work week will largely depend on the type of work and industry, says Karin Sanders, Professor in the School of Management and Governance at UNSW Business School.

For example, a knowledge worker may find it much easier to shift their working hours than someone in the construction, hospitality, education, and care sectors, along with a whole range of industries.

For some of these professions (like construction), Prof. Sanders says working on Saturday morning is still very much a reality of working life and is likely to remain so until there is a shift in Australia’s working culture.

Is Australian work culture ready for a four-day work week? 
Prof. Sanders says one way to improve wellbeing and mental health, and reduce absenteeism and burnout is to adopt a four-day work week without employees sacrificing their pay. But Professor Sanders doesn’t expect a four-day work week will be the norm in Australia anytime soon.

“The stereotype in most industries is that if you go down in hours, people think that you are not ambitious, are not going for promotion, and are not committed to the company. So, employers will see that moving to a four-day work week as a signal of not being committed,” she says.

With the rising cost of living pressures and other stressors, employees are searching for a healthy work-life balance. While there is evidence supporting four-day work weeks, it may be some time before Australia’s work culture adopts this.

But as more trials get underway, it may become harder for Australian companies to ignore the benefits, especially as employees flock to the jobs that prioritise, and can deliver, a healthy work-life balance for our community.

For anyone needing career advice, we offer a career coaching service that can assist with all your dream job needs.

Source: UNSW Sydney

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