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According to the Fair Work Ombudsman an employer must not request or require a full time employee to work more than 38 hours, unless the additional hours are reasonable. The idea of a 38 hour work week makes some entrepreneurs laugh- as all business owners will tell you- there’s no such thing.

Dynamic Business asked experts if the 38-hour work week is preventing businesses from achieving better innovation and productivity outcomes?

Rafael Moyano, CEO, Australia, The Adecco Group:

It’s an exciting time for business, as new working structures and management strategies challenge the traditional 38 hour work week.

While there have been some recent positive studies about the four-day week in the past few months, this model will remain impractical for most businesses for the foreseeable future. Most customers and clients still work over five days, and reducing hours could risk losing them to competitors.

Flexible working measures on the other hand, which allow staff to have more control over their working week, are a great alternative. Providing staff with more leeway on start and end times, while allowing them to work from home, can help boost team morale, engagement and productivity without impacting the bottom line.

That is not to say the four-day week should be rejected completely, with some businesses experiencing a more engaged, committed and energised work force. However, there are many strategies that can achieve a similar outcome for less risk.

Jenny Vanderhoek, Founder, Mynder:

Reality: Long hours, stress and physical inactivity are bad for our wellbeing – yet we’re working harder than ever. What if you’re a working mum or parent? Add that to the mix and the strain is elevated to another level.

The key solution here is more ‘flexibility’ in the workplace. We are all throwing around the ‘buzz’ word, but are we actually implementing a new flexible working strategy? Business owners should be looking at ways to provide more support to working parents. Let’s start going more easy on them. I can guarantee you that the minute you start working closer with them and recognising the need for flexibility, productivity will increase.

In perspective, corporate Australia are constantly talking about how they want to support women returning to work and offering working parents more flexibility. Natalie Mcdonald, from LinkedIn recently spoke about the fact that, 62% of global workforce take advantage of flexible working practices, making it the new norm. Also, a New Zealand company recently trialled a 4 day working week but paid for 5 days. It was a huge success and improved job satisfaction, engagement levels and lowered stress.

Let’s all ride this wave and offer more flexibility – a small change can do a world of difference. First step is – talk to your people!

James Campanini, GM, BlueJeans International:

There’s no denying that our lifestyles and work pressures are changing. As we see new generations come up through the workforce, and the world becomes more and more connected, employees are juggling a number of priorities. From the pressures of meeting deadlines, keeping clients happy, ensuring accounts are up-to-date, all while spending quality time with the kids and family or taking them to appointments or other commitments, it feels like there are never enough hours in the day.

So how can the traditional 38-hour work week accommodate, and support the many priorities for employees, all while ensuring better innovation and productivity outcomes? More than ever before, employees are offered flexible work arrangements to ensure they’re able to balance a number of other life priorities. Innovative technology in the workplace is driving this change, and is changing how, where and when we work.

As outlined in the most recent research from The Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, benefits to flexible working go beyond employee engagement, and ensure productivity and innovation is maximised. Improved output through quieter work spaces, greater client reach, better services due to a presence in more locations, and increased personal growth through self-management and communication with teams, are just some of the benefits. Of course all of these result in greater customer loyalty – a win-win for employees and employers.

Nicole Gorton, Director, Robert Half Australia:

Tips for encouraging innovation:

  1. Capture ideas: By failing to capture and build on creative ideas as they are formed, businesses risk missing out on highly valuable, innovative solutions.
  2. Encourage employees to speak up: Every employee needs to feel encouraged to speak up and contribute their views on how to make innovative improvements to the business. Provide safe and respectful avenues for this – whether in team meetings, an office comments box or an email address
  3. Create a culture of innovation: Leaders must foster a culture that supports new ideas. This includes developing clear structures and processes to identify, develop and implement innovative ideas.
  4. Develop the talent in your organisation: Staff development is integral to innovation. It promotes key innovation skills like personal responsibility, understanding of errors and visionary thinking.
  5. Remove the barriers: Innovation relies on both financial and technological possibilities. IT must support innovation with modern technologies – like data analytics, business intelligence tools and cloud technology – while remaining attractive to the professionals working within the IT department.

SuperEd, Chief Customer Officer, James Coyle:

Yes, I believe we have to look at this from the perspective of achieving a real balance between innovation and productivity. Firstly, I believe it is important to create time to think and reflect.  Rigid working hours and expectations don’t always allow for that flexibility.  George Bernard Shaw once said: “Few people think more than two or three time a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.”  To achieve true innovation, you need to have time to think and reflect. From that perspective, a typical 38 hour work week could be seen as a limitation to some small businesses and startup founders because it could stifle innovation by not affording these businesses time to consider their product and processes because of the constant production line of administrative tasks and the burden of daily deadlines that they face. True genius is inspiration and being able to have to space to think creatively and differently  can make all the difference when it comes to real innovation. On the other hand, the commercialisation of that inspiration is a challenge that many small businesses and startups face. An integral part of startup culture is having highly motivated people who are prepared to do whatever it takes to drive better innovation and productivity outcomes, and do whatever it takes to get a job done. From that perspective, a rigid 38 hour week structure may not be conducive to productivity particularly for high performance cultures where longer or more flexible hours could result in better end outcomes for the business. Ultimately, the challenge for us all is finding the correct balance between inspiration and commercialisation to realise true productivity and innovation.


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Gali Blacher

Gali Blacher

Gali Blacher, editor, Dynamic Business

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