Employees don't want the four-day week – they'd prefer this instead

Mental health challenges and outside influences are pressing on workers' minds

Employees don't want the four-day week – they'd prefer this instead

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us reconsider how we want to work. But as a trial of a four-day working week is due to get underway in Australia and New Zealand, new research suggests that employees would prefer ultimate flexibility over a fixed four-day model.

The study finds that the prospect of a shortened week prompts concerns among some Australia staff about longer hours, customer frustrations and company performance. More than half of the full-time employees interviewed, 60%, would prefer the flexibility to work whenever they want, compared to the 40% who favoured one day less working each week.

The findings come from Qualtrics, a provider of customer experience management software. Its survey reveals that almost half of employees, 48%, consider a flexible working life to be having control of the hours they want to work. Nineteen per cent of respondents believe flexibility is choosing what days to work, while 17% define it as having the ability to work from any location and 10% want to be measured by their performance rather their hours worked.

Dr Crissa Sumner, Qualtrics’ Employee Experience Solutions Strategist for Australia and New Zealand, said the findings highlight the importance of understanding employee needs.

“Among the buzz surrounding new working models, employers must not lose sight of the fact that what employees really want and have come accustomed to is the flexibility to adjust their work schedules to fit the demands of their lives,” Dr Sumner said. “Increasingly, we’re seeing people make career decisions and find fulfilment in their jobs by working for organisations that truly understand and respond to their needs, and where they feel they belong.”

Eighty six per cent of those questioned are open to their employer implementing a four-day working week, mostly citing improvements to their health and wellbeing as the reasons for doing so. Fifty two per cent of respondents say their job is the main source of mental health challenges and the majority of respondents, 85%, believe a four-day working week could improve work-life balance. Furthermore, 79% believe it will boost their mental wellbeing and 78% think it will help recruit talent.

One possible option is having employee performance measured by results rather than hours and days worked, with 82% of respondents supportive of this approach. An overwhelming majority of respondents also welcome the prospect of their employer offering paid mental health days, with 91% they would be a good long-term solution.

The research concludes that being proactive in understanding how employees want to work and the subsequent impact will enable employers to make informed decisions, ensuring the new ways of working align with the varied needs of a workforce.

“The most important part of any working model isn’t simply the hours or days worked,” emphasised Dr Crissa Sumner. “It’s being able to have conversations with individuals on a deeper level to understand and meaningfully deliver what people want and expect to ensure everyone benefits from the transformations underway.”

On a cautionary note, almost three-quarters, 74%, say that if a four-day week was introduced, they would expect to work longer hours, while 66% say customers would be frustrated and 59% say company performance would suffer. More than half of respondents, 54%, feel their career advancement would be negatively impacted if they worked flexible hours.

The study questioned 739 full or part-time employees across a range of industries in Australia, in May 2022.

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