We love working in Australia so much that we do it better than most other developed nations, with each of us averaging around 44 hours a week.
Now after years of personally writing about all the interesting things Nordic countries do to shift the status quo on how we work, I’m pleased to see the merits of shorter working days and weeks finally being discussed in Australia also.
That discussion’s being started by the Greens party leader Richard Di Natale, and it happened at the National Press Club on Wednesday where he kickstarted a conversation about the future of work.
Di Natale believes a good portion of Australians want to work less, and that we need to shake up how we think about the working week in order to better address wellbeing and trends in automation.
“A four day work week, or a six-hour day might actually make us happier and create more opportunities for others, not to mention reducing the costs of full-time child care,” he was expected to say in an advanced draft of the speech published by Fairfax.
“We want to kick off a conversation about the future of work and start by questioning the entrenched political consensus that a good life can only come from more work.”
He thinks it’s about time we discussed trialling such options, like has been done internationally in places like Sweden, and told the ABC his party is not pushing any specific model but rather wants to start a conversation about the possibilities.
But he’s also expected to note that the people who created the “dog eat dog society” we live in will claim that such proposals are “pipe dreams”.
“Don’t believe them.”
He was also expected to outline a plan for all employees to be able to request flexible working hours, with employers required to prove why such flexibility isn’t possible.
And he’ll noted that with five million jobs expected to be lost to automation in the next 10 years, we must end the idea that working longer hours is the answer.
Working shorter hours is not about producing and achieving less in our working weeks, but rather about working smarter and more efficiently. It could be about working longer days to achieve a four-day week, or shorter days to better fit with school hours and childcare arrangements. It could simply be about enabling more flexibility and choice so employees can work according to when they’re at their best.
It’s also about the knock-on effects of working less hours — such as (potentially) more time for exercise and healthy eating, less stress, an improvement in health and wellbeing, reduced congestion and more time for family and friends. Di Natale says shorter working weeks would give people more time to spend on the things that actually make life enjoyable — such as sport, volunteering, family and entertainment.
Such knock-on effects are, at this point, speculative. We don’t know what Australians would do with the added free time, or if shorter work weeks could ultimately produce more jobs and opportunities for everyone.
But working smarter and better begins with a willingness to at least have the conversation, and experimenting with real workplace trials that explore what happens when Australians work less.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.