‘Huge benefits’: Medibank trials four-day work week

Medibank employees will get to enjoy shorter hours for the same pay.

Medibank employees will get to enjoy shorter hours for the same pay. Photo: TND

Change is in the air for Australia’s labour force as yet another major local organisation has announced a four-day work week trial.

Medibank announced 250 of its employees, including frontline customer staff, will take part in the six-month trial.

Kylie Bishop, Medibank Group lead – people, spaces and sustainability, said the organisation had been exploring how it could work smarter and offer greater flexibility for more than a year.

The trial will start this month.

“There are lots of pressures out there right now, whether it’s cost of living or people managing their work and home commitments,” she said.

“We’re constantly thinking about how we can help balance that for our people and invest in their health and wellbeing to help prevent issues like burnout.”

Seek data released in 2022 showed 67 per cent of employees have felt burnt out, with experts finding many employees are seeing work increasingly encroach on private life, and some are taking on multiple jobs as cost-of-living pressures build.

Studies show companies which have trialled shorter work weeks had overwhelmingly positive results, from increased worker happiness to increased revenue.

Less hours v compressed hours

Medibank’s four-day work week trial will be based on the 100:80:100 model: Employees will receive 100 per cent of their pay, reduce their working hours to 80 per cent, while maintaining 100 per cent productivity.

This stands in contrast to Bunnings’ recent four-day work week trial, which saw employees work 100 per cent of their regular hours across four days, or spread the hours over a nine-day fortnight.

Bunnings’ trial “compressed” the hours worked by employees, while a four-day work week is supposed to reduce the hours worked, 4 Day Week Australia campaign co-founder Alyssa Shaw told TND.

She said while a compressed work week could offer greater flexibility, there isn’t a lot of evidence that it is beneficial.

Meanwhile, a four-day work week has been proven to have “huge benefits”, particularly regarding employee output and health.

“Productivity comes as a result of wellbeing,” Shaw said.

“What we’re seeing in Australia and internationally is that people [working four days per week] are a lot less stressed, they’re reporting less burnout, their sleep improves, the amount of time they have to exercise increases, their conflict at home reduces.

“There’s also benefits for employers, because absenteeism goes down, employees are generally a lot more loyal, happy and engaged, and producing really high-quality work. So, in some cases, this has led to increases in profits.”

Medibank has dubbed its trial ‘The Gift’; Shaw said while a four-day work week may be considered a gift today, it will be the standard in the future.

Other options on the table

Centre for Future Work director Dr Jim Stanford said since the pandemic, people’s attitudes to jobs have changed “quite a bit”, with a greater focus on work-life balance.

He said this is long overdue, as Australia has been “frozen” in the five-day, 38-hour week routine for decades.

Stanford said unlike remote or hybrid working arrangements, there’s “no reason” employees couldn’t have a shorter working week in any workplace, although in some instances shift schedules would have to come into play.

“So it wouldn’t be a standard Monday to Thursday … everyone gets Friday, Saturday, Sunday off. You’d have to have a system where one group got Monday off, one group got Tuesday off, and so on,” he said.

The four-day work week is one of many options emerging to achieve the general goal of less working hours – there may be no one-size fits all solution.

Other options include increased annual leave, flexible days that can be taken for family or education purposes, or even earlier retirement.

“Given the variety of different working arrangements that exist in our labour market, it doesn’t make sense to dictate one particular approach,” Stanford said.

“I think it should be determined, preferably, by negotiation and consultation between employers and workers – and their union.”

A Medibank spokesperson said the four-day work week trial occurred after employee feedback through engagement surveys and workshops, and it was designed together with 4 Day Week Global.

It will be monitored and measured by Macquarie Business School.

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