How a workplace change could improve gender equality

·2-min read

Four-day working week trials have made employees happier and more productive - and widespread uptake could even improve gender equality.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, global experts revealed the workplace change was easier to implement than businesses expected and benefited both workers and employers.

Boston College economist and sociologist Juliet Schor said trials of the four-day work week showed "off the chart" employee wellbeing results.

Professor Schor predicted the practice would be normal in many countries by the end of the decade.

"What the four-day week activity is doing is making people more productive and so that suggests alleviating skill shortages because it means people can do more," she said.

Charlotte Lockhart, whose company 4 Day Week Global helps businesses make the change, said business owners needed to recognise millennial and gen-Z employees wanted a different way of working.

"We've seen a significant change even in the last year ... there is a general acceptance from governments and from businesses that reducing work time is part of the future and so it's just about the logistics of getting there," she said.

Ms Lockhart said a four-day working week could improve gender equality by encouraging more dads to take time off for care responsibilities.

"We've done so much to pull women up in the workplace, but we've not done enough to help men out of the workplace," she said.

"By making reduced time the norm for everyone, we're actually giving men an opportunity to spend more time with care duties and responsibilities."

University of Queensland professor John Quiggin said the societal consequences of long work hours had been severe over the last few decades, impacting stress levels and leading to family breakdowns.

He said in the absence of employers being able to afford a wage increase, they could instead reduce the number of working days for their staff.

Ms Lockhart said research indicated reduced working days did not impact profits but in fact made businesses more profitable because workers had improved health and wellbeing outcomes.

"One of the pieces of information that came out of our research is the reduction in insomnia," she said.

"That means we're less stressed, we're less fatigued ... (and) quality and quantity of sleep means we will live longer."