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Are long weekends the new normal for Aussie workers?

Australians are settling back into their office chairs after having their 3-week stint of long weekends, thanks to Easter celebrations and Anzac Day. The question that everyone wants to ask is, why can’t every work week be 4 days?

We are living in an age where flexible working has come to the forefront of working life since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic. People experienced first-hand the benefits and feasibility of remote work and as lockdowns lifted across the country, many employees were left with the choice whether to return to the office or continue to work from home. A choice that was never there before.

Through the past 2 years of companies being forced to adapt working from home measures it has been proven that it’s highly beneficial for companies and employees. This is seen from increased productivity levels and happiness amongst employees as the balance between domestic and career life has become exponentially easier.  

Covid-19 kicking the adaption of flexible working into hyperdrive has forced companies to modify the archaic system of the 9-5 by prioritising employee’s well-being. A further step would be abolishing the 9-5 all together by reducing working days to 4. This shouldn’t be mistaken for compressing a 5-day work week into a 4-day schedule but reducing the hours worked by employees as a whole, from 38 hours to approximately 30 hours.

Studies have emerged of the 4-day working week saving businesses money, a survey out of 250 UK businesses found operating a four-day work week on full pay, made annual savings of $175 billion and two-thirds of businesses reported an increase in staff productivity and improvement in the quality of work.

Companies shouldn’t just see this 4-day work week as cost saving measure but an employee saving measure, as it reduces burnout and improves employee retention. This comes in the wake of the “The Great Resignation”, a term coined by Anthony Klotz, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, after millions of US workers quit their jobs in light of the pandemic. Last year we saw it arrive in Australia as 1 in 5 Australians quit their job in 2021 as people began prioritising their fulfilment and wellbeing over career. Randstad’s latest Workmonitor study surveyed 35,000 employees across 34 countries, including Australia found young people have the strongest desire to align work with their personal desires. However, the greatest turnover has been seen amongst unskilled workers with 4 out of 10 having changed jobs in the past year, closely followed by labourers and IT workers.

Despite The Great Resignation looming over the Australian economy and the pressure for Australian businesses to solidify their flexible working measures, is the 4-day work week the right approach? Just because it has proven to work for some industries doesn’t mean it can or should be adapted in all industries and sectors. There are issues which have arisen from around the globe that would need to be heavily considered before companies take on the 4-day condensed work week. Some issues may include:

Customer Satisfaction: When moving into a 4-day work week it is essential companies consider the potential impact on their customers. Whether businesses choose to stagger individual work schedules or close down operations entirely for one day will be up to them. However, having an open discussion with customers is essential in ensuring expectations are managed and businesses remain operating effectively.

Policy and Wage Issues: New flexible work arrangements will be dependent on clear policies and guidelines, with HR being essential to ensuring the complexities arising from changes in salaries, wages and overtime are ironed out completely. By addressing these issues thoroughly employees will be able to experience the full benefits of the 4-day work week.

Pressure on Communication: The reality of reducing workdays and the possibility of individual working schedules means that communication amongst management and employees will need to be at an all time high. This has been experienced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic as employees moved to remote working and saw the importance of communicating properly with your team and with management. By introducing the 4-day work week, companies will simply have less time for employees to communicate to one another, leading to that open communication becoming increasingly difficult.  

Even if the 4-day week is offered by employers doesn’t mean employees will choose to take it. However even if not chosen, it still will be seen as a significant advantage when hiring and retaining staff. These flexible options to employees will prove that you are not only caring for your employee’s work-life balance but placing a trust in them to manage a reduced work schedule and still be a valued asset to the team.

There is no question that the 4-day work week is effective for some companies. It has been proven to boost productivity and reduce overheads. But this isn’t just a money saving strategy, it is an opportunity for businesses to prove they can let go of old habits and be adaptable in the modern age of work. By doing that, they are putting their employee’s fulfilment first and establishing a trusting relationship which has now become a key area people focus on when considering a shift in professions or companies. This won’t be a simple, straightforward process but will be one in the right direction, as we continue progressing into a post pandemic world where flexible working is here to stay.  

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