One Australian city is considering letting some of its employees work four days a week, but other governments aren’t sold on the idea.
The ACT Legislative Assembly is considering a four-day work week for its public service. The ACT public service expressed the idea favourably, saying that it would make Canberra “one of the most progressive cities in the world” and help attract talent, in a submission to the parliamentary inquiry.
The proposition, if successful, would likely see a commensurate reduction in working hours but retain the same level of pay.
News.com.au understands that there are no plans to consider implementing a four-day work week in the NSW and Victorian civil services, although both have introduced more flexible workplace arrangements since the Covid-19 pandemic.
There has been a nascent push for a four-day work week around the world as companies and workers venture into the post-pandemic work environment. The Belgian government last month passed reforms that allowed employees to do five days’ worth of work in four. Multiple countries, including Japan, Scotland, and Iceland, have trialled the shortened working week.
This does not necessarily come at the expense of productivity, research has shown.
In June 2021, UK-based think tank Autonomy released a report that analysed the results from four-day work week trials from parts of Iceland’s public service held in 2015 and 2017. It found that workers maintained or increased productivity, and that workers reported an improved work-life balance.
It furthermore found that through shortened meetings and new workplace strategies, workers did not report overwork despite being just as productive in a shorter time span.
A 2018 report from the International Labour Organisation found similar results.
“ … It is widely believed that long working hours result in high productivity, but this is actually a myth. In fact, longer hours of work are generally associated with lower unit labour productivity, while shorter hours of work are linked with higher productivity,” it said.
Anecdotal evidence supports this: Australian behavioural science consultancy Inventium has made the four-day work week a permanent feature after trialling it during July 2020 as workplaces rapidly tried to find footing in the Covid environment.
“We found that after our initial six month trial of the four-day week, we actually increased productivity by 26 per cent,” said Dr Amantha Imber, the company’s founder, on news.com.au’s I’ve Got News For You podcast.
This comes at a time when workers and employers are grappling with new ideas and expectations of work.
Employees are finding that they have greater bargaining power than has been the case in recent memory, with companies struggling to fill vacancies and unemployment is predicted to hit record lows by the end of the year.
Research from ANZ earlier this week found that there had been a 14-year high in the number of job advertisements in February this year.
The ACT government’s submission to the parliamentary inquiry said that while a four-day work week would come at a cost, there would be benefits.
“The ACT’s total employment package would be highly competitive and there are clear benefits to workers having more time off,” it said.
“There are economic benefits to the ACT and broader Canberra region when workers have more time to relax and spend money in the region.”