Is the four-day work week the next big thing for aged care?

Published on 5 July 2023 (Last updated on 12 July 2023)

Research shows the four-day work week benefits employees and organisations through reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. [Source: Shutterstock]

There’s a renewed buzz surrounding the push for a four-day work week after successful pilots in Australia highlighted the positive impact it can have on workers across several industries. But in aged care, where there’s no one size fits all approach when balancing departments, will the four-day work week for everyone?

What is the four-day work week?

  • The four-day work week uses the 100:80:100 model: employees retain 100% of their pay and work 80% of their former hours, but they have to maintain 100% productivity
  • It promotes a positive work-life balance so employees have more personal time to spend with family and friends, invest in hobbies or take care of household responsibilities
  • Successful four-day work week trials have reported no loss of productivity 
  • Some businesses have adopted the 4/10 work week: employees work four ten-hour days which is similar to shiftwork hours for nurses and doctors

Prior to the pandemic, interest in the four-day work week was low. But once work from home became the norm, white-collar workers saw the benefits of escaping the 9-5 office life. They could skip the long commute, save money and spend more time with the family.

“It is not surprising that the reduction of working hours/days, without a pay cut, improves employees’ well-being, which can further boost their performance, productivity, innovation and creativity. Mental health and well-being issues are prevalent among workers and a main trigger of these issues is long working hours,” Professor Zhou (Joe) Jiang, Management and Head of Department (Business Administration) at RMIT University explained.

Despite the personal benefits, business owners have always been worried about reduced productivity and the impact on clients or consumers. Those concerns appear to be unnecessary, however, as trials across Australasia saw 25 of 26 companies adopt the four-day week. 

In fact, findings from Experimenting with a 4 day week in Australasia, revealed a 54% increase in self-reported productivity, alongside a 44.3% decline in absenteeism, an 8.6% decline in staff resignation and a 64% reduction in burnout.

“The introduction of a four-day work week delivers a strong message about the employer’s emphasis on work-life balance, openness to new and innovative solutions to support employees and a commitment to building a sustainable, resilient workforce,” Professor Jiang said. 

“It is likely that organisations which effectively implement this practice in a way that suits their specific contexts will gain and accumulate competitive advantage quickly and sustainably.”

But there are trends for aged care to be wary of as recent research has focused primarily on office-based businesses. In Experimenting with a 4 day week in Australasia:

  • 73% of companies had 25 or fewer employees
  • The major industries represented were professional services (27%), marketing/advertising (18%) and manufacturing (14%)
  • Just one company worked in the ‘health care or social assistance industry’

Who could benefit the most?

In many ways, aged care providers already offer flexible working arrangements for aged care workers, whether it’s giving them rosters to suit personal needs or supporting casual and part-time workers working reduced hours. So it might not be your direct care workers who really benefit from the four-day week as it’s already par for the course. 

What does that mean for other staff in aged care, including executives, managers, marketing professionals and admins? Given the 24/7 nature of aged care there are specific needs that need to be met every day and three days without office staff could be too much.

But many of the successful trials have seen departments or individual employees take one specific day off per week. So there really is no set approach to the four-day week you must take. Instead, it could be rolled out in a way that doesn’t impede productivity or prevent aged care consumers and clients from accessing resources when they need them.

Additional research on four-day work week trials also indicates the most benefit will be achieved by the company as a whole. The Conversation surveyed ten companies that were either involved in a global trial or had run their own independent trial: 

  • Three managers reported no loss of productivity 
  • Meanwhile, the other seven actually reported increased productivity. 
  • Businesses that worked directly with clients said they still met their needs despite staff working fewer days

As more research takes place, the aged care industry has plenty to learn from. Ongoing examples include Bunnings, which is trialling a four-day week or nine-day fortnight where employees work the same number of hours across fewer days. In terms of making this shift in an aged care facility, providers will have to work towards implementing their own trial programs to work out how the four-day work week could benefit their staff.

aged care
aged care workforce
employee satisfaction
four day work week
working hours
flexible work