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HR professor on the possibility of a four-day work week in Australia

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read
Hr Professor On The Possibility Of A Four Day Work Week In Australia

While it seems like a dream for a four-day work week to become the norm, many may be sceptical as fears of decreased productivity and current labour shortages weigh heavy.

HR Leader spoke with Karin Sanders, professor in human resource management and organisational psychology at the UNSW Business School. She highlighted that a change to a four-day work week might actually see an increase in productivity as burnout and job dissatisfaction could be reduced.

“If people are not feeling well, close to burnout, they make mistakes. There’s a difference in doing your job and doing it 110 per cent.”


“Teachers and nurses, for instance, should be avoiding burnout to give maximum care in their jobs. You don’t want someone looking after your loved ones if they’re burnt out and hate being there!”

With trials in New Zealand, Iceland, and Spain all showing the same or increased productivity, a successful four-day working week in Australia might be possible.

While this change would be beneficial for some industries, prof. Sanders admits that there are others that couldn’t accommodate the change quite as well.

“A four-day work week is not for every profession. As an academic, I work much more than four days a week, and I enjoy it,” she said.

“If I work on the weekend, that’s my choice. But there are so many other jobs that don’t get my autonomy. Construction workers for instance may need to keep working Saturday mornings.”

Professor Sanders explained that her vision of a four-day work week mainly applies to the people who can’t work from home and enjoy the flexibility that offers. Those most vulnerable to burnout. Jobs like retail where you are constantly on your feet and dealing with customers.

With the ACT looking into the matter, we may see some change coming in the future. But, with the current labour shortage, it’s no wonder people are skeptical. Professor Sanders, however, believes we wouldn’t see a negative outcome, but rather that we’d achieve benefits for the labour market.

“If we were to work for four days we could get more from workers and have less turnaround in people leaving workplaces due to burnout.”

It seems like the topic of reduced worktime is on everyone’s minds as Sweden has even experimented with six-hour work days. With the world in collective thought on the matter, change could be around the corner. However, this push would need to be spearheaded by trade unions or the government, says prof. Sanders.

“There would be too much room for organisations to take advantage of workers, pay cuts for example. Unions and the government should be making the push, they have the power and can do it properly.”

Prof. Sanders also highlighted that such change needs to be collective, to avoid employers dominating the talent market due to agreeing to less working hours for equal pay. She suggested a hypothetical example whereby if one hospital offered a four-day work week and another didn’t, the first hospital could more readily attract staff.

For those wishing to read more on the topic, prof. Sanders recently contributed to the UNSW article Is Australia ready to embrace a four-day work week?




Employees experience burnout when their physical or emotional reserves are depleted. Usually, persistent tension or dissatisfaction causes this to happen. The workplace atmosphere might occasionally be the reason. Workplace stress, a lack of resources and support, and aggressive deadlines can all cause burnout.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.