Why Doesn’t Australia Have A 4-Day Work Week When It Sounds Like Fkn Bliss? An Investigation

I’m pretty sure if you asked most people what their ideal work week involved, it would not include five whole days of labour. The elusive four-day work week has been discussed, debated and discoursed-about for decades. We already know the benefits of a four-day working week — people are more productive and they’re happier. Companies don’t lose profits. So why don’t we have a four-day work week? And what would it take to implement one?

The idea of a four-day work week is genuinely a lightly erotic fantasy for me: a three-day weekend? One day for tasks, one day for fun, one day for relaxing? No hump day in the middle of the week, because the week only has four days?

It seems like a bit of a no-brainer that we would go for a four-day working week — so why don’t we?

Australia has a work-obsessed culture

Professor Karin Sanders from the University of NSW Business School reckons one of the big obstacles is Australia’s “mentality”.

“In my opinion, it’s against the whole opinion, the culture, the mentality of Australia,” she told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“Australia is much more a ‘bloke’ culture where people are really high status, [where] they work on Saturday morning as well.”

Our lives revolve around work, and it’s increasingly normal for people to check their emails or Slack on days off too.

Another key factor is that five-day working weeks have been the norm for ages. It’s something we don’t think twice about.

“To move away from it does require quite a lot of adjustment,” AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

Tradition, culture and of course, profits, all play a role in our continued reliance on the five-day work week.

Our work culture is still living in the ‘Dark Ages’

A bunch of companies around the globe have been trialling a four-day work week thanks to the not-for-profit 4 Day Week Campaign. Earlier this year, 20 Australian companies started the trial.

Denis Moriarty is the managing director of Melbourne-based tech company Our Community, which is almost finished with the six month trial. He told PEDESTRIAN.TV that the company would be implementing a four-day work week once their trial finished up — and that returning to a five-day week would be “like going back to the Dark Ages”.

Like Oliver, he mentioned the fact that we’ve had a five-day work week for what feels like forever.

“We have not changed work practises, and in that time our productivity has escalated so much,” he said.

“Employers are far better off but workers aren’t. They haven’t got the benefits of that productivity improvement.”

What are the barriers to a four-day work week?

The biggest barrier to the four-day work week is, as you might expect, employers. It’s something Sanders, Oliver and Moriarty all agreed on.

“I don’t think employers like change… it seems counterintuitive, that you can actually do more in four days than what you’re doing five days,” Moriarty said.

“They’re scared that they might lose some money out of it.”

Sanders raised the issue of employee welfare.

“Managers need to be convinced that it’s much better for the employees and because it’s better for the employees, it’s much better for the organisation,” she said.

“So they need to have a switch in mentality that they should care much more for employees.”

This is fundamentally something that has to come from individual employers rather than the government, according to Oliver. And different companies could be more likely to embrace the four-day week.

“I think a lot of companies might just conclude, ‘Well, we’re going to be ripped off here and our profitability will suffer — or our viability, worst comes to worst, might even suffer,” he said.

“It would depend on the workplace.”

He also brought up the idea that some companies could experience a loss in revenue, meaning wages would be affected too.

“I can imagine some companies going down this path and regarding it as viable, and others would say, ‘No, I won’t get the same amount of same amount of work out of my workers if they work less and so therefore, I won’t have the revenue to be able to pay them the same amount as if they were working five days’.”

Which industries would benefit most?

The experts disagreed about which industries would be more likely to introduce a four-day work week.

Sanders highlighted the importance of employers recognising necessary “recovery time”, particularly for workers in people-facing industries. She thinks they are more likely to see a four-day work week.

“Especially people who are working in hospitals, who are working in schools, the kinds of frontline work which are closely related to customers, to students, to people who can become fairly aggressive.”

She pointed to “heavy” jobs which see high-absenteeism. But she reckons a four-day work week is less likely for people in office jobs which already have high flexibility.

Oliver thought “white-collar jobs” would be more likely to have a four-day work week because of their flexibility.

In workplaces like factories which rely on manual labor, “they’d still want to run their schedules in terms of getting the same amount of work done, in terms of producing things”.

He compared it to the increase of working from home thanks to COVID-19: it’s obviously a lot easier to work remotely if you have an office job as opposed to a construction job.

“The four-day week [has] partly come out of [the pandemic] because people said they want more flexibility, more work life balance, work at home more,” he said.

“And then partly flowing from that has been some desire to move to a four-day week. But I doubt that’s going to suit all workers as well.”

As for Moriarty? He thinks it can work for everyone. One of the most frequently cited examples of the four-day week in action is Iceland. There, around 85 per cent of the population works a four-day week. Their school week is also four days — a move he thinks Australia should start with.

“It doesn’t matter what industry, whether it’s manufacturing, service industry, the media industry, it doesn’t stop. You get more out of your workers in four days,” he said.

How would a four-day work week work in practise?

There are different models for the four-day working week. Our Community still operates five days a week.

“About 90 per cent of our staff work Monday to Thursday, and then 10 per cent of our staff work on Friday,” he said.

“So they can answer phones, they can still deal with customers, if there’s a software breakdown, they can fix websites — all those things.”

With mega-corps like Unilever looking at four-day work week trials, it seems like the tide is potentially shifting. All I can say is, let’s fkn gooo.