The four-day work week: a once revolutionary idea dreamed of by burnt-out employees with growing mountains of laundry that has gained considerable traction in recent years. They’ve done it all over the world and now the four-day workweek is picking up steam in Australia too.
Bunnings has become the latest company to flirt with the idea of the four-day week after union discussions produced a range of new employee benefits at one of the nation’s largest companies.
The hardware and home store will start trialling alternative working arrangements for thousands of their staff. Four-day work weeks, nine-day fortnights, and other arrangements will now be able to be opted in by staff.
National secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, the union representative body, Gerard Dwyer, said that the change could set an industry precedent.
“This is a significant breakthrough for work-life balance for workers in the retail sector,” Dwyer said. “These are advances the SDA will be pursuing in upcoming rounds of negotiation with other major retailers. This package is good for workers and for this major retailer alike.”
As Dwyer said, this one small step for Bunnings could signify one giant leap for Australian workers as more and more companies back the four-day work week.
The Four Day Work Week Australia
As the legendary Sam Cook once sang, a change is gonna come.
The working revolution inspired by the pandemic and the changes we were all forced to undergo in response to the upheaval of, well, nearly everything, may well have supercharged the race to four days.
Flexible work was proved to not only be effective but potentially transformative for gender roles, access to work, and mental health. Although some companies are indeed pushing back on the shift as cost of living pressures spike, this cat won’t be easily returned to its bag.
The four day work week is the most radical of the workplace changes. Doing what it says on the tin, the practice involves employees undertaking four days instead of five in their work week, ideally without a respective cut in pay.
Across the globe, companies are finding that the approach not only doesn’t result in a loss of productivity, but is making employees more effective, healthier, happier, and more fulfilled in life. The benefits of the approach are well documented and have been experimented with by governments from New Zealand to Iceland.
However, despite support shown for the idea by Greens and Labor Senators, the Australian government has yet to embrace such a shift. This is why it appears to be falling to private organisations to experiment with the practice — something one study has shown they increasingly are.
Mercer’s 2021 Australian Benefits Review surveyed 378 Australian organisations and found that almost 27% of Aussie employers are offering their staff a four-day week. The practice has climbed in popularity by almost 30% in the four years prior to the study.
Those who took part in the shortened week reported feeling “less stressed” and had less of a “risk of burnout”. What’s more, the change has not had a negative impact on productivity.
95% of Australian businesses offer some kind of employee assistance programme, up from 89% in 2019. This includes things like health and wellness programmes, free food, or flu vaccines.
“The clear themes emerging from this year’s study are increased support for employee wellbeing – across mental, physical and financial – and flexibility is inextricably linked to this,” Chi Tran, Head of Market Insights and Data at Mercer’s workforce consulting practice, said.
“The pandemic has accelerated the way in which employers respond to the mental health needs of their people. And we know that flexibility can reduce workplace stress, boost mental well-being and encourage productivity.
“It’s not surprising that organisations are investing in benefits that prioritise flexible work arrangements. It’s integral to the employee experience.”
Which Australian Companies Offer Four Day Work Weeks?
Currently, there is a very limited range of companies offering four-day work weeks in Australia. Many of them, which we have detailed here, are personal arrangements that certain employers have with individual employees. You might think this just sounds like part-time work, and in a sense it is, but the fact that more businesses are open to the idea is a huge step.
However, 26 Australian companies joined a six month trial programme of a four day work week in 2022 and the results speak for themselves.
Trial data, released last week, indicates that 82% of company heads were satisfied with business productivity and performance throughout the trial. For employees, 96% of them wanted to continue the arrangement, with 66% reporting less burn out and 38% reporting feeling less stressed.
The piolt saw employees take a 20% reduction in hours for 100% of their original salary — so long as they retain their productivity. Experts from Boston, Oxford, and Cambridge universities are currently examining the data.
Andrew Barnes, co-founder of the organisation 4 Day Week Global which coordinated the trial, has said that the results show an overwhelming success.
“There are lots of benefits as far as employees are concerned, but the big one is it’s not impacting company productivity and profitability,” he told 7News.
In the UK, where 61 companies took part in a similar trial, 56 of them elected to extend the pilot while 18 went ahead and made it a permenant change. The results have been put to MPs in the UK in an effort to switch the entire nation over to a four day week.
The companies in Australia that joined the trial include the Canberran lending firm More Than Mortgages, Queensland’s Momentum Mental Health, and ad agency Versa from Melbourne. Others include tech company Our Community and marketing firm The Walk, also based in Melbourne.