6 October 2021

Is it time to farewell the five-day work week for good?

| Zoya Patel
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A four-day week or flexible hours will leave more time for leisure and health. Photo: Region Media.

One of the surprise benefits of the pandemic for those of us with full-time office-based jobs is the increase in flexibility when it comes to our working hours. Many people have chosen to adjust their hours, and working from home has proven to be more effective than employers may have expected.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were debating as a culture whether more flexible working arrangements would work in large office environments. I remember being employed by a federal government agency (an experience familiar to a large portion of Canberrans!) and watching the organisation grapple with whether flexible working arrangements could reasonably be extended to more employees, instead of just those with caring responsibilities, which had been the status quo up to that point.

The questions sound ridiculously arcane now, in the pandemic world, where everyone has had to pivot to working remotely where possible, and it’s worked out mostly fine.

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There’s no doubt that home learning for those with children has added an extra layer of complexity, but my networks have reported that being able to build a routine around work and home responsibilities that fit their schedules have taken the pressure off, and many are dreading a return to ‘normal’.

It seems like an opportune time to dismantle ‘normal’ and build something new that allows people to work and contribute to the economy while also having the balance between enjoying their lives, relationships and caring for their health.

Of course, long term working from home may not be an option for everyone, but reducing the workweek to four days could be beneficial to both employers and employees and is a format that has been trialled at various private companies with some success.

Rather than having staff reduce to ‘part-time’ hours, the four-day workweek concept keeps employees remunerated at the same salary but reduces their working hours by a day. It can enhance productivity, employee wellbeing and reduce overheads if implemented well.

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Anyone who has ever worked ‘part-time’ will tell you that their workload is usually equivalent to a full-time employee, they just do it in less time. I watch the working parents I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years use their exceptional organisation skills to manage their busy workload with school pick up and home commitments, and it’s clear that the juggle is real.

It’s no secret that the Australian culture of work celebrates busyness and rewards workaholic tendencies. It can sometimes feel like there’s a constant expectation of burnout, and conversations in the workplace can feel like a never-ending game of ‘who’s the busiest?’, with a sense of embarrassment in admitting that your workload is actually quite reasonable.

But when lockdown gave everyone a chance to breathe out for a second, it gave space to explore whether this culture has been serving us well.

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How much better would it be if weekends weren’t a frantic dash to do all the life admin that piles up through the week in preparation for another five days of 9 to 5? Imagine if we could all balance our interests, hobbies, relationships and fitness without having to sacrifice our salaries when we know that we’ll be doing five days of work regardless of our hours?

Sure, it won’t work for every industry, and there needs to be clear accountability measures in place, but it’s definitely not impossible and it bears consideration.

Is it time we scrapped the five-day working week, or is it just a pandemic pipe dream?

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