Four-day work weeks are beginning to be included in Australian union agreements, with large companies increasingly embracing the workplace revolution.
The four-day work week is gathering steam around the world and is based on a simple concept: a worker receives 100 per cent of their pay for working 80 per cent of their normal hours while maintaining 100 per cent of their productivity.
It has grown in popularity following the COVID pandemic and a re-evaluation of work’s role in an individual’s life – and has been linked with improved physical and mental health, improved productivity and better employee retention for organisations.
The Australian Services Union (ASU) recently became the first union to include a four-day work week in an enterprise bargaining agreement, with Oxfam Australia to allow all its full-time employees to work a shorter week for the same pay.
Imogen Sturni, the secretary of the ASU’s private sector branch, told ABC News that another similar industrial agreement has been signed, while up to 10 more are in discussion.
“It’s really exciting that we’re seeing that momentum picking up in Australia,” Sturni told ABC News.
While a number of Australian companies are currently conducting trials of the four-day week or have embraced the concept fully, this has typically been smaller companies or startups, and led by the CEO or founder.
Now the scheme is being included in enterprise bargaining agreements it is more likely to spread to larger companies and more Australians.
“I guess we’ve had this concept of ‘nine-to-five, Monday to Friday’ for some time now,” Sturni said.
“Really, with COVID, though, I think we did see a bit of a reassessment around ‘maybe there are better ways – or at least other ways – of doing things’.”
Oxfam Australia’s union deal will see its full-time staff working 30-hour weeks at their normal rate of pay.
The charity’s Australian chief executive Lyn Morgain said the concept fits with Oxfam’s human rights and feminist ideals.
“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,” Morgain told ABC News.
“We take funds from the Australian public to support critical work overseas. So, for us the question of value was central.
“We needed to be confident that nothing we were considering was going to damage our ability to do that, and to do that as well as we can.”
The largest Australian company to adopt a four-day work week is currently Unilever, which began an 18-month trial last year with 500 of its Australian employers.
A number of studies have found that a four-day work week can lead to significant long-term benefits for both employees and businesses.
The 4 Day Week Global’s fourth instalment of its research recently found that of the more than 40 companies in the US and Canada to complete trials, none will be going back to the normal five-day work week.
The research found continued improvements in physical and mental wellbeing of employees working a four-day week, along with better productivity.
A trial involving 19 Australian and New Zealand companies also found that participating employees were more satisfied with their jobs, less likely to experience burnout and less likely to take sick or personal days.
A Greens and government-led Senate committee has also called for a public service trial of the concept after hearing “substantial evidence” of its effectiveness.