Should the working week be cut for this generation of employees?

Many are demanding that the current 38-hour working week in Australia be reduced. Source: Pexels


You’ve probably heard your own child or someone younger than yourself complaining recently about how hard they’ve got it when it comes to work.

As well as having jobs that, thanks to technology, no longer end when they leave the office, today’s workers are trying to raise a family in a time when children are now expected to be enriched by numerous expensive ‘extra-curricular activities’. 

Grandparents will often know only too well how hard it can to fit everything in for families where both parents work full time – as is the norm now – because they’re the ones who pick up the pieces when all the careful scheduling comes unstuck! And if grandparents or other relatives can’t step in, children can end up spending hours each week in before- and after-school care or childcare, even attending during the school holidays because few workplaces supply holidays of the length required by the education calendar.

It’s an issue that’s prompted one of the biggest news stories in Australia today, which questions whether a dramatic change in the current 38-hour week work structure is needed. According to The Age, the current working week was structured this way for the first time in 1947, when the courts decided to reduce the standard hours worked in Australia from 44 hours per week to 40. 

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At the time, Commonwealth Arbitration Court noted that just 100 years prior to the 1947 change in law, it was pretty standard for people in England to work 10-hour days and up to 60 hours per week, but that changing social circumstances required flexibility on the part of employers and employees. Just 20 years earlier, in 1927, the standard working week had been cut from 48 hours to 44.

Now, a column in The Age puts forward the case that working hours could possibly be reduced again, having been cut again from 40 to 38 hours in 1983. (Not, it should be said, that many people actually work the ‘standard’ 38 hours – the latest census found that the average working week was actually 44.4 hours long.)

While there will always be some people who work more or less than the recommended hours, The Age‘s story notes that other countries have already started reducing the standard weekly work hours. In France, it currently sits at 35 hours a week, while Sweden has trailed six-hour work days. Sweden, for example, found that shorter days meant that staff took fewer sick days and were more productive during their hours at work.

But there are issues that would have to be tackled for a shorter week to be introduced in Australia, such as the expense of engaging additional workers to cover the hours not worked by existing staff. And while shorter work days would allow workers to spend more time with their families, it raises questions over whether they’ll be able to actually afford the change. Less work will mean less money, something that could easily be a problem in a world where the price of everything from houses to petrol is rising.

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Where do you sit on the debate? How many hours a week did you work during your career? Should the working week be reduced, or should today’s workers find smarter ways to balance work and home life? What kind of working life would you want your grandchildren to have?

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