Unlocking work-life balance: The rise and rise of the 4-day week

Fact Checked
Updated 13/09/2023
Unlocking work-life balance: The rise and rise of the 4-day week

Time to read : 4 Minutes

The concept of a four-day work week is gaining momentum in Australia, as businesses of all sizes begin to recognise its potential benefits for productivity and employee wellbeing.

Companies are looking beyond the standard 9–5 x 5 work week for alternative ways to optimise work hours and enhance the mental and physical health of their employees.

With various models being tested and implemented, the four-day week offers the promise of increased productivity and improved work-life balance.

Key points (TL;DR):

  • The four-day week aims to reshape the standard 38-hour work week by reducing hours to a four-day, 32-hour schedule without a pay reduction.

  • Benefits include improved work-life balance, increased productivity, and decreased absenteeism and work stress.

  • Numerous trials and research studies have shown positive outcomes, and government reports and recommendations endorse the concept.

  • The adoption of the four-day week is gaining acceptance across various industries, and organisations require strong leadership and adaptability to drive further change.

Smart companies looking beyond the norm

The idea of a four-day work week aims to reshape the standard 38-hour work week by reducing the hours to a four-day, 32-hour schedule with no reduction in pay.

Companies are adopting different approaches, such as closing offices for a designated day each week or implementing rotating team schedules.

Most are utilising the '100:80:100' model, ensuring employees receive 100% of their previous pay while working 80% of the time, with a commitment to maintaining 100% productivity.

Anti-poverty agency Oxfam Australia was among the first to try out the four-day week. The organisation saw the value of improving work culture and recognised the need for a better work-life balance.

Oxfam CEO, Lyn Morgain, stressed the importance of maintaining efficiency without compromising the critical work the organisation does.

By co-designing work patterns and tasks, she says businesses can identify inefficiencies and tailor their approach to increase productivity and streamline processes.

"There was already a live conversation around how people organise their work, how employers can best look after people as they undertake their work, and how we can best organise ourselves to ensure we're getting maximum value out of our work," says Morgain.

Employees appreciate having an extra day off to complete tasks that would typically be squeezed into weekends or lunch breaks.

Evidence of success

Numerous trials and research studies have demonstrated the positive impact of the four-day week on productivity, health outcomes, and work-life balance. A recent government report recommends that agencies experiment with the concept, an endorsement echoed by a Senate committee that explored work and caring.

Large consumer goods company Unilever has successfully tested the four-day week in its New Zealand office, achieving a significant decrease in absenteeism, work stress, and work/life conflicts.

The road ahead

The growing number of companies adopting the four-day week, including those in the non-government organisation (NGO) sector, suggests that the concept is gaining acceptance across various industries.

Moving forward, organisations will need strong leadership and a willingness to adapt. The benefits of embracing the four-day week extend beyond improved work-life balance to satisfying employees' desire for flexible work arrangements and positioning businesses as employers of choice.

Australia has a history of spearheading groundbreaking changes in work-related matters, such as the successful fight for the eight-hour work day by stonemasons in Melbourne in 1856.

Similar to how the adoption of child labour bans or the five-day week once seemed far-fetched, the four-day week is now on the cusp of becoming widespread.

With each trial and success, more companies are recognising the potential of a shorter work week to benefit both employees and employers alike.

The Bottom Line

The rise of the four-day week showcases a wider discussion around work-life balance and the need for innovative approaches to enhance productivity and employee happiness.

As the trend continues to gain traction, negotiations between unions and employers play a crucial role in expanding the concept to larger workforces.

By breaking free from the conventional 9–5 routine, companies can tap into the proven benefits of the four-day week, resulting in increased productivity, better work-life balance, and positive business branding.

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