A four-day work week could be within our grasp but some experts have warned: be careful what you wish for.
Despite predictions that Australian companies will increasingly embrace shorter work weeks following the coronavirus pandemic, they may not take the form workers imagined.
Exclusive data from software company Citrix revealed 85 per cent of Australians would take a shorter work week if their employer offered it – although only one in five (19 per cent) would accept a pay cut for the privilege.
Citrix Asia Pacific and Japan field chief technology officer Safi Obeidullah said employees could achieve the same output in less time if businesses supported them to work smarter and minimise digital distraction.
“We need to eliminate the mindset that aligns long hours and presenteeism with success,” he said.
“We encourage business leaders to create hours of ‘power’ to focus on a particular task; invest in intelligent workspaces to allow seamless switching between applications; and form healthy working habits that keep employees fresh of mind.”
Recruitment firm Robert Walters Queensland managing director Sinead Hourigan predicted more Australian businesses would offer shorter work weeks over the next 12 to 18 months.
However, in most instances she expected it would be a cost-cutting measure in response to the COVID-19 crisis, rather than a compressed work week or reduced hours for the same salary.
Futurist Chris Riddell said the trend had already begun.
He gave the example of “a very large Australian travel company” that allowed staff to reduce their work week but earn a higher portion of their salary than they would usually be entitled.
“If they take three days, they pay them 80 per cent of their salary, if they take four days they pay 90 per cent,” he said.
“They have not had to make any redundancies as a result.”
Commonwealth Bank head of Australian economics Gareth Aird said most Australians changing to a four-day work week would not be doing so by choice.
Underemployment – when someone has a job but does not receive as many hours as they would like – already jumped from 8.8 per cent in March to 13.7 per cent in April, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
“Given firms are going to scale back the hours people work, especially in the industries most severely impacted, you will see more people considered part time than full time and with it you will see a rise in underemployment,” Mr Aird said.
“A lot of people won’t want less hours.
“There is not going to be too many doing reduced hours by choice – it will be because that’s all they can get.”
But other Australians were opting to go part time for the increased work/life balance.
Occupational health specialist Jannah Dowe worked four days a week for mining company Anglo American and hoped to continue that way for as long as possible.
“The work/life balance is amazing,” she said.
“It allows me to spend more time with my family while also progressing my career.
“My husband and I both work four days a week as we have two young children, and because of that, our kids only go into care three days a week.”
Ms Dowe, 36, said there were also benefits from a work perspective.
“My productivity levels are higher – you have to really account for your time at work because you have that reduced time frame.
“(If you are thinking about dropping to four days) I’d say go for it.
“I’d like to do it for the rest of my career.”
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