26 Feb The four-day work week: Is working less, really more?
The four-day work week: Is working less, really more?
The four-day work week is gaining traction globally, but is it really desirable from an economic standpoint or an individual employee’s perspective? Opinions are divided.
Earlier this year the Sydney Morning Herald published an article titled: ‘The four-day work week: pathway to productivity or unpaid work?’ Journalist Anna Patty cited the example of New Zealand businessman Andrew Barnes of Perpetual Guardian, who pays his employees for five days while letting them work four.
According to the article, “When he first raised the idea with his human resources manager, she dismissed it as a joke, before realising he was serious.” Barnes was quoted as saying “his decision to pay employees for five days while letting them work four, has resulted in a 6 per cent increase in productivity and a 12.5 per cent increase in profitability in the year since he permanently introduced the new rule in October 2018.”
Microsoft trialled a four-day working week in Japan in late 2019 and reported a huge 40% boost in productivity.
The Australian Government Workplace Gender Equality Agency released a report in 2019 spruiking the business case for flexible work arrangements. Common types of flexible work arrangements that can help facilitate a four-day work week include flexible hours of work, a compressed working week and job sharing.
Some of the reported business benefits of a flexible approach to work arrangements include:
- It drives employee engagement and productivity
- Boosts employee wellbeing and happiness.
- Enhances ability to attract and retain employees
- Increases the proportion of women in leadership
- Helps to future-proof the workplace
There is plenty of global evidence that working less hours can also have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of employees. The Annual OECD’s Better Life Index Survey found that “leisure time appears to be an important contributing factor to life satisfaction – the countries with longer typical work weeks had lower life satisfaction scores.”
Australia just edged into the top 10 ranking countries in the OECD’s Better Life Index, with Scandinavian countries leading the way:
- New Zealand
Sanna Marin, the newly elected prime minister of Finland, put forth the idea of companies adopting a flexible six-hour day and a four-day workweek at a panel discussion before she became prime minister. Marin said, “I believe people deserve to spend more time with their families, loved ones, hobbies and other aspects of life, such as culture. This could be the next step for us in working life.”
Would the 4-day work week work in everyone’s favour?
Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox doesn’t think so. According to a Sydney Morning Herald article, he said “Many employees work part-time and that is of course fine, but the idea of employees effectively working part-time for a full-time wage has no merit. Any reduction to the standard 38-hour work week in Australia without a commensurate increase in productivity or a matching reduction in weekly pay would be very damaging for jobs, investment and productivity,” Mr Willox said.
ACTU assistant secretary Scott Connolly commented that “employers often call people on a four-day week to work on their day off for no pay. While work-life balance is a significant issue in the community, less paid work is not the answer,” he said.
Wednesday off, every week
Australian digital marketing company Versa trialled an employment initiative that allowed employees to take every Wednesday off work.
News.com.au reported that the results so far have been positive. “Ms Blackham says profit has almost tripled since the Wednesday-off rule was introduced in July 2018. Staff are healthier, happier, and less likely to take sick days or resign.”
So what does this all mean for Australian businesses and their employees?
The decade of the 2020’s will continue to see more changes in workplace arrangements, and workplace flexibility.
According to the Australian Government ‘Flexible Working is Good for Business’ Report’“Attracting and retaining diverse talent is crucial to future-proofing the workplace and the Australian economy more broadly. Making workplaces more flexible and responsive to the needs of employees is a key way of doing this.”
Flexible working in Sydney
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