The Australian companies trialling the new working model

In each case, the initiatives were management-led, as a strategy to tackle employee burnout, increase productivity and keep and attract talent in a tight labour market.

For example, EES Shipping, a medium-sized logistics company based in Perth, decided to trial a four-day week in July 2022, at a time of extreme pressure on global and local supply chains.

“We were starting to see cracks within the industry,” said managing director Brian Hack. “People were burning out, truck drivers were just walking out the door, and I really didn’t want to see that happen here.”

Three of the 10 managers reported no loss of productivity despite a 20 per cent reduction in hours – so effectively staff were about 20 per cent more productive.

The other seven reported productivity being even higher than before.

Six said improvements in recruitment and retention had been the biggest success of the initiative so far. Five underlined important reductions in absenteeism.

Three companies needed to maintain their previous hours of availability for customers and clients, despite their staff now working 20 per cent less time. This illustrates it is possible for “client-facing” organisations to implement four-day work weeks.

Three such companies maintained opening hours while reducing working hours.

Based on internal surveys and anecdotal evidence, managers reported that the extra day off each week meant workers felt more relaxed and re-energised, and that it helped avoid the “Sunday scaries” – the anxiety and dread felt on Sunday night at the prospect of another five-day week.

These are significant findings, given the record levels of stress and burnout in Australian workplaces.


But there are also challenges facing an organisation wanting to adopt a four-day work week. Participating managers said the biggest barrier was overcoming scepticism, both internally and from external stakeholders such as clients and customers. The biggest point of resistance was people simply not believing fewer hours didn’t have to mean lower productivity.

Overcoming that scepticism is likely to require more evidence from trials – including from larger companies, to see if the benefits reported by these small companies are scalable to the whole workforce.

One such trial is in the pipeline, though it will be of limited value. Australia’s biggest hardware retailer, Bunnings, last month signed an agreement with the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association for a four-day working week trial. The company’s 40,000 employees, however, won’t be trialling the 100:80:100 model. They’ll be working the same number of hours over fewer days. So it won’t be possible to draw substantial conclusions from the outcome.

And while the “client-facing” companies we surveyed managed to maintain their operations, it remains to be seen if that’s the case for all workplaces, such as shops, hospitals and nursing homes where any reduction in hours worked by current employees would probably need to be covered by additional staff.

While small- to medium-size companies are driving the current four-day work week trend in Australia, we might not have to wait too long to see how scalable these benefits are. A parliamentary committee has recommended a federal government-backed trial of the 100:80:100 model later this year and many larger organisations are already discussing similar initiatives, as part of current enterprise bargaining negotiations.

John Hopkins is an associate professor from Swinburne University of Technology.

The Conversation

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