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No. 23 – Will Australia ever move into a four-day working week?

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4 August 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, four-day work weeks, unclear policies around work arrangements post-pandemic, and dealing with aggressive emails from a CEO when there is no HR team in place.

I have been reading about other countries trialling a four-day work week without a cut in pay and think it is a fantastic idea. Do you think we will ever see a four-day work week in Australia?

I love the idea of a four-day week too and it is certainly time for a discussion about whether it might work in Australia. Iceland trialled a four-day working week between 2015 and 2019 and it has been lauded as “overwhelming success”. Employees from all kinds of professions including teachers, frontline health teams and office workers, moved from a 40-hour working week to a 35-36 hour working week over four days but on the same pay. The outcome of the trial discovered the shorter working week led to increased productivity and an increase in worker wellbeing including reduced stress and burnout, and improved health and work-life balance. As a result of the trials, 86 per cent of Iceland’s working population has moved to working shorter hours or have the right to shorten their hours.

Spain is launching a trial this year of a four-day work week of 32 hours and in 2020, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested employers consider a four-day week to boost tourism and help employees address work-life balance issues. In the UK there is a four-day week campaign that is using the pandemic as a prompt to radically rethink how we work. So let’s hope that as momentum builds around the world, we soon start to see the conversation being raised in Australia.

I am finding COVID-19 is really dividing people in my workplace between those who are happy to be working from home (and seem to want to keep working from home forever) and those who can’t wait to get back into the office. My boss hasn’t made any comment about a policy, and she just seems to be ignoring the issue and letting people do what they want. It’s hard to know whether there is a plan or whether things will be in limbo forever. Do you have any advice?

Your boss sounds like she has her head well and truly in the sand. There is no denying the reality that workplaces have changed, forever. How these changes will look in your particular workplace is something that your boss and employees should be involved in designing right now. Plenty of employers are being proactive about this – it can and should be viewed as an exciting opportunity – and there is generally a stated goal of either working from anywhere, a preference for people to return to the office as soon as possible or a hybrid mix of both. What is unavoidable is that the discussion needs to happen.

Are you able to raise this issue with your boss and let her know the effect that the lack of planning is having? It may be that while her head is in the sand, she is also oblivious to the impacts of her lack of communication (that is a whole other issue in itself!). Ideally she will initiate a survey with all employees so she can understand what is important to you and your colleagues, and then a plan can be developed from there.

I have been receiving aggressive emails full of swearing from my CEO which I think are highly unprofessional, and I am currently on stress leave. My organisation has no HR function and my only option to report this would be to go to the chair of the board or another board member. I fear if I report it, I will lose my job. How do you make a bullying complaint against a CEO when there are no complaint mechanisms available? Or should I just resign and hope I can find another job?

I think I need a column called Bosses Behaving Badly since I seem to receive so many letters just like yours. Bosses of Australia, be very clear, this is not OK. Stop treating people like this.

It is completely unacceptable that you are receiving aggressive emails and I have to say, also pretty stupid on the part of your CEO because you’ve obviously got written evidence of their behaviour. This will make your complaint even more powerful since the evidence will be there for you to show anyone you need to.

Your mental health is the most important thing right now, so it is good you are taking stress leave. When you feel stronger, you could consider seeking some legal advice about your rights and the best way to raise the problem in a way that ensures you are protected. You always have a right to make a complaint about how you are being treated at work, even if there are no clear policies in place, and you cannot lose your job for that.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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