Australian private health insurance giant Medibank has launched a six-month trial of the four-day working week with a small fraction of its local workforce.

The ASX-listed firm announced this week that 250 of its 4,000 full-time and part-time employees will be taking part in the trial of the four-day working week, which will see them receiving their normal pay for working one less day per week while maintaining the same level of productivity.

It’s another big step in the growing adoption of the four-day work week which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and led to a global rethink of the nature of work and its role in our lives.

A number of other large Australian companies have also launched trials of the concept, but Medibank is the first publicly-listed firm to do so.

Medibank said the trial would give employees “the gift of time” in exchange for removing “low-value work” from their days to create capacity.

“We’re really wanting to bring the future of work into the now of work,” Medibank group lead, People, Spaces and Sustainability, Kylie Bishop said.

“For more than 18 months now, we’ve been exploring how we can work smarter, offer greater flexibility, and create the best health and wellbeing for our people, in support of our customers.”

The trial has been designed with 4 Day Week Global, and will be monitored and measured by Macquarie University’s Health and Wellbeing Research Unit at Macquarie Business School.

It will be measuring a range of employee and customer metrics including customer advocacy, absenteeism and attrition, productivity and employee health and wellbeing.

“The goal is not to work a compressed work week but to find opportunities in our work to rethink wasted or non-value add work, remove bureaucracy that’s not effective to make space for the gift of time,” Bishop said.

“We will continue to support our customers at the same levels or higher as we’ve always done. Our hypothesis is that by creating the opportunity for even greater flexibility, our people and teams will adjust their way of working to improve the value of their outputs and reduce unproductive time.”

The trial will involve a small fraction of Medibank’s total workforce of 4,000, with just 250 people to initially take part.

It’s been a bad year for Medibank, which was hit with a significant cyber attack last year that saw the hackers gain access to the personal data of 9.7 million current and former customers.

The company has been forced to set aside $250 million by APRA as insurance against issues relating to this breach.

Medibank is just the latest Australian company to embrace the four-day work week. This concept is also starting to be included in union agreements, with the Australian Services Union becoming the first union recently to include the four-day work week in an enterprise bargaining agreement.

Oxfam Australia will be allowing full-time employees to work the shorter week as part of this agreement, and a further 10 are in active discussions.

Unilever also launched an 18-month trial last year with 500 of its Australian employees.

There has been a wealth of research into the wide-ranging benefits of the shorter work week, including continued improvements in physical and mental health, and better productivity.

A trial involving 19 Australian and New Zealand companies found that participating employees were more satisfied with their jobs, less likely to experience burnout and less likely to take sick or personal days.