This article was originally published on 14/03/2023

The four-day work week sounds simple enough; employees keep the same workload, salary, and benefits but work four days a week instead of at least five. But are Australian workers on board? Capterra surveyed almost 1,000 SME employees to determine their interest in more flexible working arrangements.

4-day work week and an employee’s calendar.

Companies worldwide have been trialling the four-day work week to see how the scheme impacts businesses and employees. Australia's standard week for full-time employment is 38 hours over five days, but can the benefits of a four-day work week encourage small to midsize enterprises (SMEs) to reduce work days officially, and would employees welcome this option? Improving employee mental health, increasing productivity, and attracting more talent are just a few reasons smaller businesses may want to consider this flexible work trend.

With a few organisations nationwide now implementing the scheme, Capterra interviewed nearly 1,000 SME employees —who work five days or more, primarily with a computer— for insight into their views and preferences on flexible working arrangements. Do Aussie workers think their company would be ready to implement a four-day work week? The full methodology is at the bottom of this article.

Work-life balance is one of the most important factors of job satisfaction for employees

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies had no choice but to embrace flexible working arrangements as employees from many industries were forced to work from home. One of the key takeaways from the public health crisis was that employees realised they wanted a better balance between their professional and personal lives.

According to Capterra’s survey, only one in five employees (21%) who works at least five days a week in a computer-based role is satisfied with their current job. When asked what factors are most important in terms of job satisfaction, respondents most frequently said ‘salary’ (57%), ‘work-life balance’ (51%), and ‘doing interesting work’ (33%).

4-day work week in relation to job satisfaction for employees

Capterra's survey results show that most employees who currently have the option to work from home consider a better work-life balance as the main benefit of this working model. This is also the top advantage cited by those who would like the chance to work remotely. However, most survey respondents have returned to work solely in the office, despite nearly three-quarters of this group saying they would like the chance to work from home.

With work-life balance and flexible working hours being important factors for job satisfaction, the loss of flexibility may have contributed to low job satisfaction for some workers. 

Key points to consider:

  • Most respondents have gone back to work solely in the office (63%)
  • 37% of survey-takers work remotely (31% are hybrid and 6% work from home only)
  • ‘Better work-life balance’ was the top advantage cited by employees in the group who work remotely (74%)
  • 72% of employees who work solely in the office said they would like to have the chance to work from home
  • Survey-takers who would like the chance to work from home most frequently say it would enable them to ‘improve their work-life balance’ (75%), ‘save money on commuting’ (51%), and ‘be more relaxed’ (49%)

Not having the hybrid working model and flexible work arrangements may impact the balance between employees’ personal lives and career. Can Australian companies resolve some elements of employee dissatisfaction by introducing the option to work four days a week instead of five?

90% of Australian employees would opt for a 4-day work week 

According to the non-profit organisation 4 Day Week Global, 20 companies across Australia and New Zealand began trialling the four-day work week in August 2022. Despite only a few companies participating, the outlook is promising as the scheme has received good feedback from those involved. But are companies who did not participate in the trial ready to consider reducing the work week for employees?

To understand what is happening at the companies surveyed by Capterra, we asked workers if they knew the concept of the four-day work week. 85% of employees said yes, whilst 15% said no. Within the yes group, only 10% said the scheme has already been introduced into some areas of their company (although not in their particular cases).

Despite gaining slight traction, 60% of respondents who have heard of the scheme believe their companies are not considering implementing the shorter work week.

Advantages of a four-day work week, according to employees

But what do employees want? Unsurprisingly, 90% of survey-takers whose company has yet to introduce the four-day work week are interested in working under the scheme.

When asked under what conditions they would agree to work a four-day week at their current job, 62% said they would want to keep the same salary even if it meant working the same number of hours. 36% of respondents said they would only accept the scheme if they could keep their current salary but work fewer hours (32 per week).* A minority (3%) said they would accept less salary to work fewer hours.

Companies may be concerned about employee productivity levels if switching to a four-day work week. However, during the trial, employees were given an extra day off a week with no loss of pay. 4 Day Week Global based this on the 100:80:100 model, where workers receive 100% of their pay for 80% of the time but give 100% of their commitment to productivity.

Tips for SMEs: Productivity software features tools that enable the creation of documents, spreadsheets, reports, and presentations. The software can make it easier for employees to complete their daily tasks and streamline workflows.  

The benefits of a four-day work week, according to employees  

Capterra asked survey-takers whose company has not yet introduced a four-day work week, what would be the advantages of a reduced work week with fewer hours. Again, ‘better work-life balance’ was the most frequent answer (75%). This was followed by the scheme having a ‘positive impact on well-being’ (55%) and ‘more time to disconnect from work’ (42%). 

A chart showing whether Australian companies are considering introducing a 4 day work week

By creating a healthy work environment with flexible work days, employees are less likely to feel stressed and can spend more time with their family or friends. Less stress may also benefit employees' health. According to survey-takers, fewer absences (38%) was also one of the top advantages of a four-day work week.

Advantages of a shorter work week for businesses

Whilst companies may be wary about introducing the four-day work week, it does have advantages for employers too. These include:

  • Increased productivity: The overall outlook from 4 Day Week Global found that business productivity and performance scored 7.5/10 on two separate scales for worldwide companies participating in the trial. When employees have more free time to take care of personal matters, they have more time to focus on work. 
  • Reduced carbon footprint: 75% of SMEs are worried about the effects of climate change on their operations. One of the biggest advantages of the four-day work week is reduced employee commuting, which helps lower carbon emissions. 
  • Lower overhead costs: The four-day work week can help businesses reduce utilities, office supplies, and office cleaning services costs. It can also lower the costs of electricity and energy consumption. Less spending is also required for employee benefits such as lunches and transportation allowances. 

A note on the cons of a four-day work week 

Survey-takers whose company has not introduced a short work week also highlighted the potential cons. The most common disadvantages cited were ‘work overload’ (50%), ‘reduced income’ (43%), and ‘working overtime’ (38%).

The four-day work week aims to have the opposite effect of these concerns, as work hours were reduced during the trials, and employee salaries stayed the same. Firms and workers should determine what suits them best with flexible schedules and experiment with arrangements. Project management tools can help managers monitor individual workloads and project completion. This can aid employees in avoiding an overwhelming workload.

Most workers expect resistance from leadership over a four-day work week  

As we saw earlier, most employees currently working at least five days a week are not satisfied with their current job, and many wish they could work from home. However, workers do not expect their companies to embrace the four-day work week scheme.

Two-thirds of survey-takers whose company has not introduced this working practice said they expected leadership would resist the idea. Encouraging employee feedback and suggestions can help managers gather insight into what may benefit workers, particularly regarding work-life balance, flexible working arrangements and overall job satisfaction.

Company resistance to the four-day work week in Australia, according to employees

When employees were asked what factors would help companies facilitate a flexible working culture, ‘actively listening to employee’s needs’ (56%) was in the top three answers. This was followed by ‘changes in the organisation’s culture and managers’ mindset’ (41%) and ‘a good talent management strategy and dedicated HR team’ (40%).

Tips for SMEs: A talent management system can help track and evaluate employee performance to measure and reward productivity. But it can also help align workers to roles according to their skills and abilities to develop their strengths. 

The 4-day work week is a step in the right direction for employee job satisfaction 

Australian companies will want to keep up with other global businesses and the major shift in how managers approach flexible working arrangements. Capterra’s survey results show that Aussie employees want more flexibility, including the option of remote working and the four-day work week. Employees had a taste for a better work-life balance when companies had to switch to remote working. But many organisations have taken a step back, with most employees working solely from the office again.

Businesses may be apprehensive about switching to a four-day work week, mainly because of employee productivity, but global trials have so far proven otherwise. SMEs considering introducing flexible work policies could undertake their own trials in areas of the company where it may be easier to introduce. Implementing the right tools can help businesses manage workflows, measure productivity, and evaluate employee satisfaction before making policy decisions.

In the second article in this two-part series, Capterra looks at how companies can implement workplace flexibility in other ways. 

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Capterra conducted this survey online in January 2023 among 936 employees in Australia. The criteria for this study are as follows:

  • Australian resident
  • Aged between 18 to 65 years old
  • Employed full-time
  • Works in a company with 2-250 employees
  • Works five days a week or more
  • Works with a computer

*As this was part of an international survey based on a standard week of 40 hours, the example given to respondents was to work 32 hours over 4 days, whereas the equivalent proportion of a standard Australian work week would be approximately 30 hours.