Could a four-day work week make you happier and healthier?

With four-day work weeks being trialled around the world, there is mounting evidence that less may be more when it comes to careers and wellbeing.

If there’s one thing Australians love it’s a long weekend. But what if you could have one every week of the year?

It may sound too good to be true, but the push for a four-day working week is gaining momentum around the globe.

Why do we need a four-day week?

Thanks to the pandemic, Australians are clocking up an extra six hours a week working from home, according to research by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work.

4 Day Week Global chief executive Joe O’Connor says it’s time to rethink outdated work patterns.

“The future of work requires a shift from a focus on time spent in the office, at the desk or on the clock, which is not an effective way to measure people’s contributions at work,” Joe says.

“Instead, we need to focus on measuring and rewarding collective outputs.”

Who’s already doing four-day weeks?

A host of companies and countries are already on board, notably Iceland, where about 85 per cent of workers do a four-day week, and Perpetual Guardian In New Zealand made the four-day week policy permanent after a landmark trial in 2018.

Germany has an average 34.2-hour working week according to World Economic Forum data, Spain, Scotland and Wales are all trialling the concept, and Belgian employees have won the right to perform a full work week in four days with no loss of salary.

Most recently, 4 Day Week Global, a not-for-profit organisation, launched the largest trial of its kind in the UK, with more than 3300 workers across 70 companies embarking on a six-month pilot.

What’s happening in Australia?

4 Day Week Global has also launched a six-month pilot program in Australia and New Zealand, where employees will work one day less a week with no cut to their pay.

The trial kicks off in August, and more than 30 companies are already on board.

Among them is Melbourne-based social enterprise Our Community.

“During the lockdowns in Victoria, we were thinking about how we could do a better return to work, contacted the leaders of the movement, and started planning our transition to the four-day week,” managing director Denis Moriarty says.

“This is life-changing, not just for people, but is a total rethink of the way we should do business.”

What are the benefits of a four-day week?

Joe says the four-day week could improve human, economic and ecological wellbeing.

“Research shows that companies who operate under reduced-hour, productivity-focused working can not only maintain, or even improve output, but they also see benefits through lower turnover of staff and a higher-quality applicant pool,” he says.

Other benefits include significant improvements to health and happiness, better work/life balance, and reduced illness, while research suggests a four-day week will reduce carbon emissions by around a fifth.

What are the drawbacks?

Australian Centre of Business Growth Playford Chair Ryan Williams says workers and companies should carefully consider what is best for them.

“The trial will give us some interesting insight into the short-term outcomes, but as remote working has shown us, initial productivity gains on a total working-from-home basis have not always been sustainable in the long term, and many people have reported increasing struggles with mental health issues, loneliness and switching off from work mode,” Ryan says.

Written by Dimity Barber.