The 4 Day Work Week

4 day work week

Everyone is familiar with the typical workweek of five days, eight hours a day. But what if we could reach the same level of productivity while working fewer days and fewer hours? This is the idea behind a four-day workweek. By reducing the amount of time spent in the office, employers can enable their employees to have more flexible schedules that better fit their needs. This could have immense benefits for individuals and families who face challenges like pick up times for children or other errands during normal working hours.

Paul Barclay of the ABC Big Ideas Podcast interviews thought leaders on the edge of the 4 day work week reform. The podcast is a great way to catch up on the latest science around the four-day work week experiment being conducted by Emma Dawson Executive Director Per Capita.

I loved this discussion and have summarised the main points below.

Benefits of working time reform

The four day work week is a great starting point for working time reform. Its potential benefits include reduced pressure on men and women in balancing work and family responsibilities, and an opportunity to address the burden of unpaid work that disproportionately falls on women’s shoulders. It is a key step to unlocking a new way of thinking about how people spend their time.

But for the discussion to progress further, we need to engage with unions, environmentalists, progressive organisations and employers to ensure fair representation of disadvantaged workers, and changes in state government legislation required.

In 1928 John Maynard Keynes predicted that by the time his grandchildren came of age, labour productivity had progressed enough that people would only need to work 15 hours per week - but he couldn't have been more wrong.

As of today households around the world are working more hours than ever before.

Addressing the problem of unpaid work

Professor John Buchanan from the University of Sydney Business School, is particularly passionate about the four-day workweek due to its implications on women’s economic security and wellbeing. It has become clear that the burden of unpaid work and care falls disproportionately on women’s shoulders – something which must be alleviated if we are to make any progress towards balanced cultural practices amongst our society and economy.

Women’s participation in the workforce in Australia has grown from 35% in 1978 to over 50% today. Although more women are entering into paid labour, 45% of them still work part-time jobs due to childcare responsibilities – Australia has some of the highest rates of part-time employment amongst OECD countries.

We find ourselves stuck in a neoclassical household dynamic where one partner works full-time while another works part-time or even not at all. This exacerbates the gender wage gap issue and puts a lot more responsibility for housework on women’s shoulders despite their entry into paid employment.

Reducing the expectations around the standard full-time working week can help restore balance and lessen the pressure on women while also giving men the opportunity to spend more time with their children and take on their proportion of the burden of domestic labour.

The Productivity Levy

The move to a four-day week would offer 100% of the income and output but only 80% of the time. Some may raise concerns over how they can possibly do five days’ worth of work in just four days. However, a study in the UK showed that office workers are only productive for two hours and 53 minutes each day when present for an eight-hour shift.

The world has changed drastically since the days when it took our grandparents a month to do what we can now achieve in a day. We have seen an increase in labor productivity, but little of that benefit is returned to workers in terms of increased wages and other benefits. Workers are shouldering the productivity levy for their employers. With a four-day work week, we are not only able to return a fifth of and their time to employees, providing benefits for health, wellbeing and gender equality.

There is a lot that can be achieved by working smarter rather than working longer hours. And if we can take some of that time back to our own homes and families, we can make a real shift in the way that e balance work and personal lives in our society.

4 Day Week Trial: Showing reform has several benefits ​

A global study is pointing to positive impacts of a 4 day week. The bulk of the 33 companies and 903 employees who took part are unlikely to return to a standard working week. Preliminary trial results show that over two-thirds of men surveyed said they were now spending more time caring for their children, whilst around a third stated that their partner was able to take more time for themselves. Additionally, there was a 37% decrease in sick leave amongst participants. The long-term impact of this trial could have profound implications on how we organise our personal relationships and lives going forward.

Switching to a four-day work week could help create an equal, sustainable, and enjoyable economy and society while also reducing our impact on the planet. It’s important to note that part-time and casual employees who are paid hourly could be disadvantaged if working hours are reduced. It is necessary for us to have a standardised system to ensure those affected have the same access to benefits as those on full-time contracts do.

Reducing the hours worked, employers could reduce the overall labour costs while maintaining productivity levels, giving them more freedom to distribute gains from increased productivity fairly across employees. The idea of a four-day or a 32-hour work week seems like an attractive solution.

Listen to the podcast here 

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