Australian Four Day Work Week – Research and Findings
I can see immense value in the concept of a four day work week and the research backs me up.
Australian Workers’ Union
Back in the 1800s, most Australians worked up to 14 hours a day, six days a week. There was no sick leave, no holiday leave, and employers could sack you at any time, without a reason. By 1948, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court approved a 40 hour five day working week for all Australians.
4 Day Week Global
We are now in 2023 and according to the non-profit organisation 4 Day Week Global started in 2019, we need to move from ‘hours to output.’
Their initial research projects in collaboration with participants from the UK, Ireland, USA and Canada and researchers from Cambridge University and Boston College showed that a four day work week can lead to a:
- 36% increase in revenue over previous year
- 42% decrease in employee resignations
- 68% reported a reduction in burnout
- 54% reported an increase in work ability
- 63% found it easier to attract talent
“In early 2022, 4 Day Week Global began recruiting organisations in Australasia to participate on their six-month pilot program of a 4 day week. The design of the pilot involved two months of preparation, with workshops, coaching, mentoring and peer support once the trials got underway.”
The research collected administrative data from companies and survey data from employees. “For both types of data, a pre- and post-methodology approach was employed. In the pre-trial phase, companies completed an “onboarding” survey with basic details about themselves, as well as providing six months of data to be used as a comparison, with corresponding data collected during the trial.”
95% of the 26 organisations prefer working a 4 day work week where they get 100% of the pay, for 80% of the time, in exchange for 100% of the output.
“On a scale of 1-10, companies rated the overall trial an 8.2, reporting great satisfaction with business productivity, performance, and ability to attract employees. They also observed a 44% average reduction in absenteeism and 9% reduction in resignations over the course of the pilot.”
“Employee outcomes were similarly positive, with 96% wanting to continue their 4 day week post-trial. When asked much additional pay they’d require in their next job to go back to five days, over one in three said between 26-50% more, with over one in ten stating no amount of money would induce them to go back.”
“Promising gender equality and environmental findings were also observed, with commuting time falling by 36 minutes per person per week, and men in heterosexual relationships increasing their share of housework and childcare.”
Robert Half Recruitment
A study developed by Robert Half Recruitment conducted online in November 2022 by an independent research company, surveyed 300 hiring managers, including 100 CFOs and 100 CIOs, from companies across Australia revealed more than 71% of Australian employers would support a 4-day work week for their staff with 34% stating they will transition to a 4-day work model in the next five years. Another 37% of employers believe it is a possibility. Only 28% of employers do not believe a 4-day work week is likely.
SMEs leaders are most supportive of a 4-day work week, with more than one-third (38%) stating it will be in place within five years and a further 34% considering the transition possible. Large employers are more apprehensive, with only 27% believing it will occur within the next five years and 30% not planning to implement this change.
Swinburne University of Technology and Deloitte Australia
Research from Swinburne Edge and Deloitte Australia has found that flexible working options and a focus on wellbeing are non-negotiables for Australian workers. The report – Reset, Restore, Reframe: Making Fair Work FlexWork – is based on a wide-ranging survey of 2,000 Australian workers completed in 2022 showed that:
- Wellbeing is top of mind – 93% of workers surveyed say their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing is just as important as pay
- Workers want choice in their location of work – 78% of workers who can work remotely want to work hybrid or from home. So do 39% of workers who currently have to work onsite
- People are working more and different hours – one in three workers are working more hours since the pandemic, and more than half are working outside their ‘standard’ hours at least once a week. Not all these non-standard hours are paid overtime, with more than a quarter (28%) of flexible location workers not compensated
- Workers are putting a dollar value on FlexWork – close to two in three workers would be prepared to forgo a pay rise for more flexibility in when and where they work – and a significant cohort would trade up to a 10% pay rise.
“Pay remains important but employees are placing a higher value on their work-life balance and wellbeing which flexibility fosters. Employers have an opportunity to enhance productivity and win the war for talent if they engage with their workforce and co-design new ways of working with their employees.”
University of South Australia
A study using data from the Annual rhythms in adults’ lifestyle and health (ARIA) study where 308 adults (mean age 40.4 years) wore fitness trackers 24 hours a day for 13 months recording minute-by-minute movement behaviour data was aggregated into daily totals to compare movement behaviours pre-holiday, during holiday and post-holiday.
“A shorter working week is being trialled by companies all over the world. Not surprisingly, employees reported less stress, burnout, fatigue, as well as better mental health and improved work-life balance,” Professor Carol Maher says.
“This study provides empirical evidence that people have healthier lifestyle patterns when they have a short break, such as a three-day weekend. This increase in physical activity and sleep is expected to have positive effects on both mental and physical health, contributing to the benefits observed with a four-day work week.
“Importantly, our study also showed that even after a short holiday, people’s increased sleep remained elevated for two weeks, showing that the health benefits of a three-day break can have lasting effects beyond the holiday itself.
“As the world adapts to a new normal, perhaps it’s time to embrace the long weekend as a way to boost our physical and mental health.”
|Increased revenue||Increased scheduling and management|
|Decreased resignations||Managing without talent|
|Reduction in burnout||Generational differences from living to work |
to working to live
|Increase in workability||Risk of working 40 hours in four days and |
taking on another job the other three days per week
|Easier to attract talent||Inequality whilst in transition – some |
employers yes, others no
|Improved mental health||Expectation of leaders to still work |
or be accessible for five days
|Improved sleep and exercise||May not assist the self-employed|
|Slow climate change|
|Increased sharing of domestic duties|
|Improved work-life balance|
Sue Ellson Commentary
Why do I believe a four day work week is almost essential moving forward:
- Work often involves more complex intellectual effort than in the past – for example, roles are becoming more specific so an ambulance worker may be rostered on more emergency shifts rather than a mix of emergency shifts combined with recovering patient transport. When technology removes simple tasks, more complex tasks require increased cognitive focus
- Work often involves more sedentary and screen based behaviour – less exercise is more taxing on our bodies and a lot of people are spending many more hours per day in front of a screen
- Increased cognitive load – exponential increase in access to and receiving of information compared to 100 years ago and less time to process it
- Commute times are still lengthy and expensive – particularly in large cities for low income earners
- Single person households increasing – higher domestic task load
- Dual income households with both partners working full time – less domestic support available from a partner
- Difficulty scheduling personal appointments during work hours – a five day work week means that personal appointments are delayed until after hours or during leave which may be stressful
- Reduction in food quality – increase in consumption of fast food, pre-prepared, processed and delivered foods and lower nutrient value fresh foods
- Flexible work suits all ages – all backgrounds, all abilities (provided it is reasonable – not split shifts)
- Always on lifestyle – most people have constant access to a mobile phone, smart watch, tablet or computer and reduced time away from being accessible to others (hence the idea of the ‘right to disconnect’ after work)
- Taste of flexibility – during the pandemic, we found new ways to work including working remotely or with less people at work on any given day and found more ‘time’ in our day so essentially, most people don’t want to go ‘back’ to the old ways of working
- Ancient brain – our bodies are not able to adjust to the rapid rate of change in our everyday life and work styles
Questions on this topic
Is the four day work week being driven by Generation Z?
No…there is research completed by non-profit organisation 4 Day Week Global both overseas and in Australia that is showing there are many positive benefits to the four day work week where they trialled offering 100% of the pay, for 80% of the time, in exchange for 100% of the output. The essential premise is moving from hours to output.
Also, the Select Committee on Work and Care last year recommended a range of bills to change the Fair Work Act to improve workplace wellbeing including the right to disconnect and the right to ask for flexible work.
What sort of benefits are there for a four day work week for an employer and for an employee?
Are there any drawbacks?
How could you ask your employer for a four day work week?
What do you recommend if they say no?
Image: Photo taken by Sue Ellson at the Melbourne Press Club The Edit event on ‘How to get a job in journalism’ on 25 October 2023 at Thomson Greer, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne 3000