The Four-Day Work Week - is it all that it’s talked up to be? 

Over the last few years, the concept of a Four-Day Work Week has garnered a lot of attention with various conglomerates like Microsoft, Oxfam, and Unilever, jumping on board. On average, full-time Aussie employees spend of their life at work and now almost two-thirds of us believe that a five-day work week could be a thing of the past. There’s even been discussion regarding a federal four-day work week trial. Proposed benefits of this new work week include a better work-life balance, reduced stress, improved productivity, and more output. So, what’s not to love? We dive into some of the pros and cons of the four-day work week based on international trials and research data.

1. Achieving greater balance in work and life and reducing stress

It’s no surprise that employees around the globe are ogling at the prospect of working a four-day week – who doesn’t want a three-day weekend? Hybrid and remote work has increased post-COVID and employees no longer request, but expect flexible work conditions.

A four-day work week allows employees to balance their work, care, and recreation responsibilities. Following a successful 18-month 4-day work week trial run by Unilever in NZ – where employees reported a reduction in work-life conflict by 67%, and individual stress levels by 33%, Unilever Australia decided to undertake its own trial. Like the NZ office, Unilever Australia pledged that staff will keep 100% of their salaries for 80% of their time spent at work.

Other organisations have implemented variations of the 100:80 model, such as Oxfam Australia which has proposed a 30-hour workload across four work days without loss of pay. Organisations like Oxfam, are determined for their employees to receive the support and flexibility they need to achieve balance and create occupational success.

However, for many organisations adopting a four-day work week and retaining employees’ full-time salaries is not only unrealistic, but its economically unsustainable. Industries that require 24-hour coverage or five-working days, such as healthcare, transport and logistics, and emergency services may struggle to adapt to this new work structure. For organisations that aren’t in a financial position to pursue the new structure and do so anyway – their employees may feel pressured to squeeze their regular 38-hour workload into just four days.

In a UK trial, Mark Roddrick, the CEO of an engineering and industrial supplier, claims he saw his staff working ‘9 extreme days‘ as opposed to their regular 10-day schedule, and by the time they reached their day off they were left exhausted. For employees working in high-pressure industries, their workload may bleed out into the fifth work day regardless, reducing the lifestyle benefits.

Regardless of industry, employers will need to supervise and manage employee stress, particularly for those who are vulnerable to workplace changes. Working Mums may struggle to adapt to the new structure if it doesn’t cater to the flexible work conditions that allow them to juggle their family and work responsibilities.


2. The potential to boost employee productivity and outputs


Despite reported business concerns, the four-day work week has seen improved employee productivity across the globe. In 2019, Microsoft Japan trialled the structure and saw a 40% boost in employee productivity. To ensure its employees could successfully create the same outputs within the condensed work week, Microsoft implemented additional operational support by capping up to 50% of their meetings from 60 to 30, limiting meetings to 5 attendees, and transitioning from emails to collaborative chat channels.

In a large-scale 6-month four-day work week trial in the UK, Kate Daniels, CEO of a Leeds digital marketing agency, Trio Media, said that the truncated work week boosted productivity and output within her team. A result she equates to the notion that “happy people perform better at work.” According to the largest four-day work week trial in the UK, run by a not-for-profit, 4 Day Week Global and various academic institutions – the structure boosted productivity and increased company revenue. Out of the 40 firms who participated in the trial, companies saw an average increase of 1.4% in company revenue over the 6-month trial period – a delight for employees and employers combined!

However, higher employee productivity does not always equate to a boost in financial productivity – particularly for businesses experiencing staff shortages and resource challenges. The downside of increased flexibility for some organisations is that they may feel pressured to hire more staff to fulfil their regular job outputs or pay for additional resource support or customer service support.

A study conducted by Sapio Research revealed that 88% of employees working at ‘highly productive businesses’ believed they were provided the right technology and resources to do their jobs, compared to 48% of people working in low-productivity organisations. So businesses that take the time to ensure their business is a ‘highly productive’ one with the right technology, training, and resources in place, before transitioning to a four-day work week, could mean the difference between financial challenges and increased corporate profit.

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