Could the 4-day working week become a thing in Australia?

Picture this: your closest competitor has instituted a 4-day working week in Australia, and the industry buzz is out: customers, staff, and their bottom line are all looking healthier. Couple this, for example, with an increased incidence of absenteeism and call for flexibility from your own workers. Would you be moved to consider a shift in your organisation’s definition of what constitutes the ‘working week’? Well… read on.

The 4-day working week in Australia: it’s become an increasingly popular concept and point of discussion in Australia, after the highly publicised trial – and subsequent adoption – undertaken by Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand.

The trial took place between March and April 2018 and allowed for all workers to work four days per week between Monday and Friday, whilst all other employment conditions remained intact.

The results from the trial were so successful, that Perpetual Guardian now pays their 240 employees for five days, while they actually work four.

This permanent shift has seen a drastic improvement in productivity, more family and recreation time for employees and happier employees overall.

Take a look at this video below.

Other organisations and institutions across the globe are also starting to trial and adopt the 4-day working week. These include Microsoft in Japan; the UK Government; Finland’s youngest ever Prime Minister, Sanna Marin has it in her sights. And so does the Russian Labour Ministry.

Whilst industry traditionalists see the concept as a means for productivity loss and profit decline, recent studies have shown outcomes to be quite the opposite.

The Microsoft test in Japan saw a 40% increase in productivity during the month’s trial, compared to the same month the year prior. Workers also reported feeling happier, and there was a 25% reduction in absenteeism.

The Australian Side of the Story

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox told the Sydney Morning Herald that any reduction to our country’s 38-hour work week “would be very damaging for jobs, investment and productivity.”

It was the Perpetual Guardian trial that really started the conversation about a 4-day week, not only in this part of the world but across the globe.

Whilst unions and some industry bodies see the 4-day working week in Australia as an opportunity for worker exploitation – for example, expecting beyond 5 days’ work in 4 – the clear evidence to the contrary could point to this perspective being a symptom of change resistance.

There’s a growing list of companies in Australia who are already on board.

There’s digital marketing agency, Versa. CEO Kath Blackham sought to provide her workers with the opportunity for better mental health, to remain (or get) healthy, and to have ample time to catch up on sleep, exercise, family time, and recreational pursuits.

There’s Tasmanian financial advisory company, Collins SBA. The 5-hour work-day implemented recently has seen a significant rise in productivity and employee happiness.

Canberra based design studio Icelab, have introduced 4-day weeks for employees, paid on a pro-rata basis.

Perth software design firm, Buildkite allow a small portion of their staff to work 4 days.

Australians are the least content with the standard five-day working week and they feel strongest about not having enough time in the day to get the job done.

The Case for a 4-Day Workweek? Kronos survey.

 

Why Are Organisations Considering a 4-Day working Week in australia?

The cause for concern by employers, instigating the consideration of a 4-day working week in Australia, are many:

Employee health and wellbeing:

As we’ve noted previously, organisations are becoming far more aware of preserving and protecting the health and wellbeing of all workers. There’s a growing body of evidence showing the 4-day week leads to a reduction in stress and a significant boost to employee happiness.

Employee burnout:

Similarly, burnout remains a cause for concern in most industries. Over-working, over-consuming coffee (or other stimulants), stress, and the negative effects on worker health and family life – all these factors can have horrendous health impacts for the individual worker. And tellingly, the impact on the organisation is also detrimental. Resentment, declining productivity and attrition are all known by-products of workers who are over-stressed, over-stretched and flailing.

Inefficiencies at work:

The Kronos survey determined that admin tasks and work not directly associated with an individual’s role were impacting efficiency. Interestingly, the ‘how’ of these inefficiencies was different depending on the worker type:

  • Millennials blame social media; they also believe (as do Gen X), that meetings are a time vacuum
  • Boomers believe they waste time addressing problems that they didn’t instigate
  • Part-timers believe they handle more customer complaints and issues than full-timers
  • Full-timers believe they’re twice as likely to waste time in meetings

Employee loyalty:

As millennials become the biggest segment of the workforce, their needs and perspectives are very different to generations prior.

They seek flexibility, balance and the ability to pursue passion projects. By taking a 4-day week approach, Australian companies will be in pole position to engender loyalty from these grassroots workers.

What Are The Downsides of a 4-day WORKING Week in australia?

“The employer will get some benefits in terms of increased productivity, morale and retention. But I don’t think many will think that is a profit-enhancing shift,” Jim Stanford, Economist and director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work. 

 

Some of the documented downsides of a 4-day working week for Australian organisations to consider include:

The ‘always-on’ digitised approach to working, simply gets worse:

Let’s face it. Most of us are accessible most of the time, should our employer call upon us.

At night?

Sure.

My mobile hosts all my work emails, hence I’ll respond to my boss.

Therefore, on this rationale, a four-day workweek perhaps isn’t feasible, mainly because it just won’t happen. Employees (and employers), won’t enforce a zero-email or server access during ‘off’ days. Perhaps on this basis, is the answer, better management of the existing five days model?

The likelihood of dissatisfied customers:

A shift to four days of access for customers and vendors in a customer-centric organisation may be tricky to manage. Where an organisation provides critical support to clients or customers, and there’s a need or expectation of accessibility of customer service, a shift would need to be managed with precision and plenty of strategic planning.

The cram factor:

Trying to cram five days of work into four, can have a negative impact on stress and productivity. Where the same amount of work is expected, the worker typically will work back late into the evening, rush projects or tasks, and will likely experience increased errors in their deliverables, due to fatigue.

Also, tired workers rarely, if ever, deliver their best.

Every employer knows this.

What’s The Answer? It Depends…

It’s hard to imagine the 4-day working week becoming universally accepted across Australia.

But perhaps that’s legacy thinking at work.

As we’ve seen here the benefits are unquestionable; the issue for Australian organisations to consider is how the arrangement is executed and managed.

This ultimate test for any organisation’s success or failure in undertaking an alternative working arrangement will be heavily weighted on these factors.

Time will surely tell.

As one of the world’s top suppliers of contingent worker management solutions, CXC is perfectly positioned to optimise all elements of your contingent workforce strategy. With operations in more than 50 countries across 5 continents, and with decades of experience, we can assist with every aspect of your program.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help with your contingent workforce solutions please contact us here.

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