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Would a four-day working week work in Australia?

Business

International trials of the four-day week have produced some positive results for businesses and employees alike.

By Jon Bragg3 minute read
four-day working week work

As offices across the country continue to reopen, discussions about the possibility of a four-day working week are on the rise again.

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Trials conducted in countries such as Spain and Iceland have produced positive results for workers, including lower levels of stress and an improved work/life balance.

New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian also made headlines back in 2018 by offering the four-day working week as an option for its more than 240 employees after a trial saw productivity jump 20 per cent.

Employsure business partner Emma Dawson said that the COVID-19 pandemic had shaken up our perception of a typical working week.

“With more people working, or preferring to work from home post-lockdown, the argument for a four-day work week has never been stronger,” she said.

To gauge the potential success of a four-day working week in Australia, Ms Dawson pointed to the current impact that public holidays have during a handful of weeks of the year.

“In an office environment, employees buckle down, cram their work for the week into four days, and then relax knowing they won’t have to look at a computer screen again for several days,” she explained.

“If this applied to workers all year, they would essentially get 50 extra days in the year to better handle their work/life balance. Parents would be able to spend more time with their children, work on projects around the house, travel to more places on the weekend.”

The number of businesses offering compressed working weeks (such as a four-day working week) to their employees has risen by 29 per cent in the past four years, according to Mercer’s 2021 Australian Benefits Review.

Twenty-seven per cent of Australian organisations now offer a compressed working week as a benefit.

“The pandemic has accelerated the way in which employers respond to the mental health needs of their people,” said Mercer head of market insights and data Chi Tran.

“And we know that flexibility can reduce workplace stress, boost mental well-being and encourage productivity. It’s not surprising that organisations are investing in benefits that prioritise flexible work arrangements.”

A recent survey conducted by Ipsos for US firm Eagle Hill Consulting found that more than half of workers had re-evaluated their lives and careers in light of the pandemic.

Eighty-three per cent of workers said that a four-day working week would help to reduce burnout.

Despite the many potential benefits, Ms Dawson noted that there were a number of significant issues to consider before the four-day working week could be adopted in Australia.

“While a post-COVID world is an ideal time to shake up the typical work week formula, ultimately it comes down to cost,” she said.

“If a four-day work week is something that could work in Australia, it can realistically only be achieved once businesses and the federal government have fully recovered from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.”

Would a four-day working week work in Australia?
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Emma Ryan

Emma Ryan

AUTHOR

Emma Ryan is the deputy head of content at Momentum Media and editor of the company's legal publication, Lawyers Weekly.

Emma has worked for Momentum Media since 2015 and has been responsible for breaking some of the biggest stories in corporate Australia. In addition, she has produced exclusive multimedia and event content related to the company's respective brands and audiences.

A journalist by training, Emma has spent her career connecting with key industry stakeholders across a variety of platforms, including online, podcast and radio. She graduated from Charles Sturt University with a Bachelor of Communications (Journalism).

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