Is Australia closer to adopting a four-day work week?


Australia should trial a four-day work week at full pay, according to a new Senate report.

The Senate work and care committee, chaired by Greens senator Barbara Pocock, called for a suite of policies to adjust work-life balance, including a right to disconnect from work by not answering phone calls or emails outside work hours.

There are a few businesses across Australia who are or have trailled the four-day week, but the committee wants the federal government to trial the 100:80:100 model.

four day work week trial

"Whereby employees retain 100% of the salary while reducing their hours to 80% and maintaining 100% productivity," the report says.

It also recommended getting the Fair Work Commission to review the idea of a 38-hour work week and whether stronger penalties are needed for businesses that make staff work longer hours.

Nikki Beaumont, chief executive of recruitment firm Beaumont People, previously told Money that she trialled a four-day work week and made it permanent upon seeing its positive impact.

"The gift of time is one of the greatest gifts you can give. It gives people the opportunity to take a day out of their week to do whatever they please, without changing their salary in any way - whether that's dropping kids at school, spending the day kayaking or, in my case, gardening."

Another example is Unilever Australia, which recently began its four-day work week trial after a successful 18-month trial at its New Zealand operations.

In New Zealand, Unilever reported strong results against business targets, including revenue growth, with most staff reporting feeling engaged and absenteeism dropping 34%.

Individual wellbeing also improved, with stress dropping 33% and work/life conflict fell 67%.

Unilever Australia and New Zealand CEO Nicky Sparshott said that bringing the trial to Australia was an opportunity to explore different ways of unlocking value.

"The experiment builds off Unilever's ambition to enhance the wellbeing of both its people and business. This is about trying new ways to remove the barriers that potentially limit value creation and slow us down, and focusing our energies on creating impact and delivering results," she said.

Already, there is a small pilot underway in Australia with 20 companies being run by 4 Day Week Global which just completed the world's largest trial of the four-day work week in the UK.

UK trial

Sixty-one companies participated in the six-month trial, with 92% of participants planning to keep the policy in place.

Companies that participated had to meaningfully shorten their employees' work weeks, with many opting to reduce the working week to just four days while ensuring employees still received 100% of their pay.

Across the participating companies, none reported a drop in revenue over the June to December trial period, but revenue rose 35% on average when compared with a similar period from previous years.

The pilot program, conducted by 4 Day Week Global, think-tank Autonomy with Cambridge University and Boston College, found the data consistent with various other programs undertaken around the world.

Companies reported 65% fewer sick days and 71% less burnout among employees.

Amongst employees, 60% said it was easier to balance work with home life, while 73% reported increased satisfaction with their lives.

"We got lots of very happy people. People really enjoyed it. They found it such a reward to have three-day weekends instead of two-day weekends," says Cambridge University Professor Brendan Burchell.

UK environmental consultancy Tyler Grange was one of the 18 firms to adopt the permanent change to a four-day work week.

"My experience has only been really, really positive, you can see it in people day-to-day at work, that they're more energised at work," Tyler Grange client director Nathan Jenkinson told AFP.

The findings will be presented to British MPs as part of a push urging politicians to give all workers in Britain a 32-hour week.

Leading that push is non-profit 4 Day Week Global whose co-founder and managing director Charlotte Lockhart says the trial strengthened the results that had been seen in other jurisdictions.

"Not only do these findings demonstrate that the UK pilot program was a resounding success, but it is encouraging to note that they largely mirror the outcomes from our earlier trials in Ireland and the US, further strengthening the arguments for a four-day week," she says.

International response

However, despite the findings it may be some time before it becomes legislated around the world.

When asked if the UK government might adopt the trial as a national policy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman didn't sound optimistic, saying there were "no plans for that".

In the US, there has been some debate around shortening the workweek, with legislation being pushed by Californian congressman Mark Takano.

Takano introduced a bill to Congress to reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours.

The bill does take a slightly different approach, as it would require employers to pay overtime to employees who work over 32 hours, thereby incentivizing a shorter workweek.

Meanwhile, in Maryland a bill is currently working its way through government that would entice employers to switch to a four-day week and offer a state tax credit for participation in the pilot program.

Currently the Federal government has not released a response to the senate committees report.

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Eliot Hastie was a senior journalist at Money magazine in early 2023. He was previously a producer and presenter at ausbiz where he covered startups, small caps, cryptocurrency and every other investible opportunity for Australians. Eliot has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Journalism from the University of Westminster. He tweets at @Hastie93.