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A four-day working week? It’s not as crazy as it sounds

A four-day working week? It’s not as crazy as it sounds

In January this year, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox ruled out the idea of reducing employee hours while maintaining standard full-time pay rates.

“Any reduction to the standard 38-hour work week in Australia without a commensurate increase in productivity or a matching reduction in weekly pay would be very damaging for jobs, investment and productivity,” Mr Willox told the Sydney Morning Herald.

However, January 2020 may as well be 100 years ago. The coronavirus pandemic has completely changed every facet of our lives.

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After a long period of sustained growth, the economy is in decline and working arrangements have been turned upside down. Some employees are back in the office, while some are still at home.

With all this reshuffling, wages are all over the place too. For those people fortunate enough to still have a job, many are still working on reduced rates.

The fact is the working week as we know it is dead. If it wasn’t before the coronavirus, it sure is now.

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In this time of radical workplace upheaval, is it worth considering a four-day working week?

The tricky part of answering that question is the lack of evidence to work with. The theory goes that despite a 20% reduction in working hours, employees will work harder and more efficiently because a three-day weekend leaves them refreshed and motivated.

New Zealand estate planning company Perpetual Guardian made headlines in 2018 for making the policy permanent. After recording strong results in its trial, the option was made available to more than 240 staff.

CEO of marketing agency LAB, Jonny Tooze, was also struck by inspiration after taking a long weekend away with his family. He decided to give every employee the option of Monday or Friday off.

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That these examples are being reported as news, however, shows that they are significant outliers. If we’re to seriously assess the merits of a shortened working week, we need a large-scale trial of this across multiple industries.

If the limited anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, we should dispel any preconceptions we have about what constitutes workplace efficiency.

Working longer doesn’t necessarily mean working harder. Reducing hours by 20% doesn’t mean our output has to fall too.

Imagine an extra 52 Mondays or Fridays a year out of the office. 52 extra days to enjoy with friends and family.

Workplace incentives can be a useful way of encouraging greater output, but it’s hard to think of a better motivator than that.

With such widespread disruption to the current workplace model, why not use this period to trial a not-so-radical idea that could lead to long-term benefits for employment?