Some Australian businesses are about to get serious about trialing a four-day work week, but they’ll need to make some significant digital investments to ensure it works.
From August, a group of Australian companies will trial a four-day work week as part of a six-month program with 4 Day Week Global (4DWG). They follow the UK, where 70 companies and their 3300 employees are now enjoying an extra day off without pay cuts following their own trial.
The notion of a permanent ‘long’ weekend has seen plenty of deliberation in years passed. Many companies are already accustomed to shorter Fridays, nine-day fortnights or ‘choose your own hours’ setups, to name a few variations.
However, much like the concept of hybrid work, it has taken a pandemic and the consequences that followed for a permanent four-day work week to be considered en masse.
Australians are burnt out. In fact, a study of 25 countries found we are the most burnt out in the world. Add to that turbulent economic conditions, rising inflation, supply chain disruptions, skills shortages, talent retention challenges and high unemployment, and we now have companies reviewing workplace policies to ensure staff are happy while maintaining customer service and their bottom lines.
Although there are unavoidable variables for which different industries and individual companies will need to account for, the reality is employees demand to choose their own fate, and expect to be supported in the process – or they’ll go elsewhere.
This is particularly true for digital-first millennials, who, according to the latest census data, are becoming the largest generational group. Most millennials have grown up with the mindset of getting things done on the go, through multiple apps and devices – whichever is most convenient for them at a particular time.
As Australian bosses turn greater attention to the work-life balance spectrum, it’s critical that arrangements are built on choice and empowerment. Doing so will safeguard workers and the ongoing recovery of business as we all brace for further uncertainty.
Bosses responsible for driving productivity
In saying all this, it’s still crucial for leaders to keep productivity front of mind.
4DWG’s four-day framework is based on a 100:80:100 per cent principle – 100 per cent pay for 80 per cent of the time based on a commitment for 100 per cent productivity.
Read HRM’s case study of New Zealand business Perpetual Guardian Group’s adoption of the 100:80:100 principle and how they made it work.
While some might put the onus on employees, bosses hold responsibility to empower their teams to fulfil the productivity component – regardless of whether workers are online a day less, or opting to do all their work from home.
As it stands, productivity is a bit of an afterthought. Gartner’s 2022 CEO Survey flagged that while attracting and retaining talent is front of mind for senior leadership, productivity doesn’t make the top 10.
That means more than just prescribing reduced hours. Employers need to heed the lessons of their pandemic experiences, which crucially spans to the tools needed to get the job done.
Research conducted by Censuswide found 94 per cent of Australian workers experienced frustration due to inadequate technology to support hybrid work. Meanwhile, 90 per cent of respondents indicated they would move elsewhere if they didn’t get the right technology.
This sentiment was echoed at a recent event attended by decision makers from some of Australia’s largest organisations. Leaders I met with expressed that in the last two years, inadequately equipping employees to work remotely led to constant productivity roadblocks. It impacted both quality of life and the ability to serve customers.
We are well past the basics of online meetings. A successful move to a four-day work week (or similar) relies heavily on facilitating digital capabilities to ensure ongoing collaboration between workers, free teams from laborious administrative tasks with automation, maintain secure access to the information needed, protect from cyber-attacks, and crucially, disconnect properly when the workday comes to an end.
In the aforementioned report, Gartner advises, “Business leaders should be turning to their technology executives now, asking for more aggressive and radical productivity-improving solutions. A deeper, more direct focus on productivity engineering will help restructure the cost base to compensate.”
Australians won’t stand for just talk when it comes to their working conditions. Organisations that fail to invest in digital assets as drivers of productivity will not only struggle in transitioning to new workplace policies, they will also risk losing their best talent to competitors willing to do so.
The consequences could be profound with unemployment at a 48-year low and SEEK recently posting a 25-year peak in job vacancies.
Whether it’s a four-day work week or a similar alternative, bosses who double down on resources to help their staff hit their targets so they can get more time back for their personal lives stand to set a benchmark for employment.
With Australian companies poised to experiment with a new operating model, technology’s role will become even more prolific.
Jeremy Paton is team engagement and collaboration specialist at Avaya in Sydney.