HRM explores whether the four-day work week is living up to people’s expectations, and outlines some of the potential legal risks, in the latest instalment of The Big HR Question video series.
Last year was a big year for HR professionals. Trends such as the ‘Great Resignation’ and ‘Quiet Quitting’ dominated headlines, as did conversations about the four-day work week and its effectiveness, following multiple experiments across the globe.
Many Australian organisations, including Unilever ANZ, are now trialling the four-day work week and have already begun to see significant improvements in their employees’ wellbeing and productivity as a result. Despite this, not everyone is totally on board with this new work style.
Dr Sean Gallagher, Director, Centre for New Workforce, Swinburne University of Technology, is more inclined towards optimising ways of working in five-day work week, and shares some of the potential legal concerns that could arise with the four-day week.
However, Rachada Tepsatra, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Ink+Iris, has fully embraced the four-day week, using the 100:80:100 model, which offers 100 per cent of employees’ salaries, for 80 per cent of their work time and 100 per cent of their productivity levels.
Tepsatra not only agrees that there is an increase in appetite for the four-day work week arrangement, but that it acts as a great incentive to enhance an employees’ motivation.
Watch the video below to hear their perspectives on whether or not the four-day work week is here to stay.
Skip to the sections that interest you the most:
0:05 – Is the four-day work week feasible?
Tepsatra shares first-hand experience of what the four-day work week looks like in her organisation.
Gallagher believes the four-day work week is dominating the zeitgeist in many ways and he sees this work arrangement as an attractive incentive for burnt out Australians who are looking to establish that work-life balance. However, he’s not convinced this is the only way to reinvent work or cure exhaustion. Instead, he advises people and culture leaders to focus on strengthening the five-day work week to better manage the risks of overworking.
3 minutes and 47 seconds – How could the 100:80:100 model impact productivity?
“[The] future of work is less about productivity and more about creativity and innovation,”says Gallagher.
He says the four-day work week causes employees to increase productivity levels at a time when AI is becoming far more effective at taking on a large majority of these more mundane tasks. He provides an example of a colleague from the creative industry who works with ChatGPT and ties this back to the narrative around investing in creativity rather than productivity since AI has been built to look after more repetitive, menial tasks.
Coming from a creative agency, Tepsatra says her organisation is not fixated on measuring productivity as a metric to gauge people’s performance.
She also says, “How do you measure how creative someone can be?” and talks about the importance of analysing creativity based on the output.
Tepsatra adds that the four-day work week has boosted creativity in her organisation since designers get an extra day to recalibrate, relax and come back with a fresh perspective.
7 minutes and 54 seconds — How can companies with a mix of blue and white-collar workers respond to employees’ calls for a shorter work week?
Tepsatra acknowledges it can be tricky to close business on one particular day.
She suggests organisations pose the question to the workers and ask them, from the ground up, what they believe would be the best solution in this scenario.
Gallagher, on the other hand, wants leaders to understand that not all workers are equal and that a bottom-up approach may not work for certain organisations. He also feels that allowing too much flexibility or putting the onus on employees can lead to decision-fatigue as the four-day work week can provide less direction than a traditional work week.
10 minutes and 59 seconds – What are some legal considerations HR should look out for before implementing this flexible working arrangement?
Gallagher says organisations should focus on facilitating flexible working options, be it in the four-day or five-day work week, giving employers more room to understand what employees want.
He discusses two major aspects for HR to consider:
- Plan ahead to avoid under-reporting – Under the Fair Work Act, HR has to be thorough with the compliance obligation of employers to be across their employees’ work hours. You need to be careful that flexible work hours don’t introduce overtime risks.
- Be across major legal changes (including psychosocial risks) – He refers to the recently passed industrial relations legislation (Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill) that allows a cohort of workers (e.g. personal carers or employees living with disability) to be able to negotiate a working arrangement that suits their unique needs.
Tepsatra encourages leaders to follow her organisation’s footsteps by undergoing an opt-in pilot program first to gauge whether or not the four-day work week is a good match to their working style. This way, important documentation, such as employee contracts, annual and sick leave policies and salaries remain untouched since the organisation is running it as an experiment in the first instance.
13 minutes and 53 seconds – What are some best-practice tips to keep in mind before embarking on a four-day work week?
Gallagher sees the four-day work week as a part of the flexible working umbrella and reiterates that this working model is not a panacea for all organisations.
Tepsatra advocates for companies to look into best-practice case studies to gain insights on how to implement this working arrangement in a frictionless manner. She also says not to consider this arrangement as a Band-Aid solution to solve cultural problems.
17 minutes and 30 seconds – What measures should employers put in place to ensure productivity isn’t impacted?
Both Gallagher and Tepsatra strongly believe that the number one factor is trust.
Tepsatra says if a company lacks trust in its employees, is struggling with any inherent cultural problems or has a strictly hierarchical structure in place, then it should refrain from boarding the four-day work week ship.
“You have to treat employees as adults. [Then] you reap the benefits of that,” she says.
Watch other episodes in HRM’s The Big HR Question series.