Could Australia Benefit From a Four-day Work Week?

December 23, 2018

in

Work Safety

by

Ella Donald

It’s the latest organisational buzz — the four-day working week.

New Zealand wills, trusts, and estates company, Perpetual Guardian, made headlines in mid 2018, when they trialled their new four-day work week for two months, proving so successful, the company decided to make it a permanent opt-in option for its employees.

“We have proven the concept and developed a model workable for our business, and we have established a KPI for the leaders in our business to ensure productivity and customer service are maintained," founder and managing director Andrew Barnes says, who claims that productivity went up 20% and that employees were more engaged during the trial.

According to Barnes' findings from the trial, based on the typical five-day working week, workplace productivity could be as low as one-and-a-half hours per day, and so unsurprisingly, the biggest headline to come out from the study was how it increased active time for employees. 

Barnes believes that this new approach, not only increases employee engagement, but also lowered energy costs. "Thinking of an alternative arrangement wouldn’t just save money, but increase employee wellbeing, staff retention, and the reputation of the company," she says. "All of this contributes to a healthier and more harmonious workplace."

Perpetual Guardian employees also reported that work-life balance improved from 54% to 78%, and staff stress levels dropped from 45% to 38%.
A four-day week has been proven to improve employee engagement plus lower energy costs. Photo: iStock

Moreover, it appears that Perpetual Guardian is not alone in advocating for this new concept to be introduced into the workplace, with research by The Workforce Institute at Kronos finding that 47% of Australians also desire a shift to a four-day week.

What's more, Melbourne-based nail polish company, Kester Black, was one of the local pioneers of the four-day week (38 hours), when founder and designer, Anna Ross started offering it to staff, four years ago. Although, not all staff choose this path, opting for a half-day on a Friday instead. 

Ross has reported that since introducing this, her employees are happier and more productive, and that staff turnover has been minimised — with the latter factor proving beneficial for her, as the business grows.

Ross says that most who take the day off choose to work another job (including freelancing) or spend the day with family, valuing the variety and personal fulfilment the arrangement gives.

“I really loved having part time jobs rather than one full-time job,” she says. “Everybody enjoys it because they just work harder during the four days … it’s just get in, get out. And we never do anything outside of hours.”

The change was motivated by her own memories of working in the cut-throat fashion industry, where she worked 90-hour weeks for a low wage, suffering from low mental and physical health as a result, all while observing similar effects with friends and family. And the work day didn’t end when she left the office either — more often than not, taking work home with her.

“It ruined my relationships and it really ruined my life,” she says. “I don’t want that, and I don’t want any of my staff to have that. They don’t take anything home.”

Being overworked can cause poor mental and physical health. Photo: Stocksy
“People always get to that point where they resent having to go to work — we’re just trying to minimise that as much as possible,” she laughs.

However, for companies that are looking to replicate the resounding successes of Kester Black and Perpetual Guardian, it might not be all that simple.

Dr Stacey Parker, a Senior Lecturer and Centre Director of Business and Organisational Psychology at The University of Queensland’s School of Psychology, says that increasing productivity isn’t as simple as promising an extra day off each week, and hoping the same amount is achieved, rather, part of a varied work day structure that ensures down time, both in and out of the office, and therefore minimising inefficiencies that bloat contact hours.

“Mini breaks are momentary sources of respite during the work day, and can include something as simple as going for a short walk, surfing the web, or taking a break to chat with a colleague,” she says. “The idea here is that recovery need not wait until you get home from work, but can and should be part of your daily routine at work.”

“I am somewhat agnostic about whether the work week should be 5 or 4 days, or whether the typical work day should be 9am-5pm or 9am-3pm. I imagine that different configurations will suit different people, organisations, and industries.”
Sources of respite during the work day is also beneficial. Photo: Stocksy

Regardless of the industry, the four day working week makes something clear — it is undeniable that the nature of the workplace is rapidly changing, with companies having to keep up with shifting demands, technologies, and expectations in order to do business.

As such, it seems there is no single answer to the issues that these varied industries face today. However, to change in line with these is to remain current, placing the value of healthy employees, efficiency, and longevity to the forefront.

What are your thoughts on the four-day working week? Share your thoughts with us by commenting on our Facebook post.

Ella Donald
Rebecca Earl

Ella Donald is a journalist, university tutor, critic, and writer from Brisbane, Australia. She teaches at the University of Queensland, and writes for publications including Vanity Fair, The Guardian, GQ, The Saturday Paper, Vice, ABC, Fairfax, and news.com.au.

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