5 May 2023

Survey shows Canberrans 'overwhelmingly' want shorter work week, but don't skimp on the pay

| Claire Fenwicke
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Hot air balloons above Lake Burley Griffin

Spending time with family and a better work-life balance are some of the reasons why Canberrans have voted they support a four-day work week. Photo: Paul Jurak.

The vast majority of Canberrans are all for shortening our standard five-day working week, but don’t want things like pay or conditions to change as a result.

The Standing Committee on Economy and Gender and Economic Equality continued public hearings into the future of the working week on Wednesday (3 May) while also releasing survey results regarding our attitudes towards a four-day work week, associated changes to pay and conditions, and other flexible working arrangements.

More than a thousand people – 1,155 to be exact – responded to the survey, with 86.23 per cent stating they were “very supportive” of a four-day week.

When breaking down the numbers further, just over a third of respondents (39.91 per cent) indicated they preferred a model of a four-day work week that involved fewer hours worked each week.

That’s opposed to 22.86 per cent of people who said they would accept a compressed four-day work week, meaning you’d work more hours each day overall.

“Many respondents pointed out that [any suggested] benefits would not occur with a five-day week compressed into a four-day work week,” the survey report stated.

“Rather, the total number of hours worked over a week should be reduced.”

While some respondents pointed out that the benefits of a shortened week would be diminished if you were working longer days as a result, others said they worked longer days anyway and so would be happy with compressed days.

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How that working day would look, and how that would impact wages, forms part of the inquiry.

Most people said they supported a shortened work week model to achieve a better work/life balance to enable them to spend more time with family, reduce childcare costs, increase staff attraction and retention, and have the chance to complete ‘life admin’.

It’s been previously highlighted that if a shortened work week was mandated, this could have a negative impact on services available, given the public servants running them would also be off work.

“Some respondents noted the potential impact to delivery and access of government services if a four-day working week was adopted,” the survey report stated.

“[One respondent wrote] ‘It is not about the individual – public servants exist to driver [sic] programs and services to the community.

“Any reduction in hours generally, and contact hours specifically, will adversely affect service provision.”

While extra staff would need to be recruited in areas such as healthcare and education, more job-sharing arrangements would need to be in place so those services could still be offered at current rates.

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When asked about potential changes to pay and conditions under the four-day work week model, 78 per cent of people said they would prefer no change to pay or conditions.

Many cited cost of living pressures as a reason behind this stance.

Only two per cent of respondents indicated they would swap fewer hours for less pay and conditions.

Another aspect overwhelmingly supported was the integration of other flexible work arrangements, with 93 per cent of respondents supporting working from home and flex-time being offered in conjunction with the shortened work week.

Breaking down the demographics of those who took part in the survey, 64 per cent were female, with the majority (64 per cent) between the ages of 25 and 44 years.

Just over half (54 per cent) had no caring responsibilities, while more than three quarters of respondents worked full-time, Monday to Friday office hours, and had access to flexible working arrangements.

Most respondents worked in public administration and safety (26 per cent), followed by professional, scientific and technical services (13.31 per cent) and education and training (12.36 per cent).

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